Saturday, November 17, 2012

Protecting Judges in Sri Lanka

A United Nations independent expert has voiced serious concerns about reported intimidation and attacks against judges and judicial officers in Sri Lanka, and warned that they might form part of a pattern of attacks, threats, reprisals and interference in the independence of the justice system in the Asian country.   “I urge the Sri Lanka Government to take immediate and adequate measures to ensure the physical and mental integrity of members of the judiciary and to allow them to perform their professional duties without any restrictions, improper influences, pressures, threats or interferences, in line with the country’s international human rights obligations,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, said this week in a news release.  Click here to see a copy of the news release.

According to reports she has received, most cases of attacks and interference against the judiciary in Sri Lanka are not genuinely investigated, and perpetrators are not held to account.  “The irremovability of judges is one of the main pillars guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and only in exceptional circumstances may this principle be transgressed,” Ms. Knaul said, while also expressing her uneasiness with the procedure of impeachment of the Chief Justice of the country’s Supreme Court, Dr. Bandaranayake, launched before the Parliament on 1 November.  “Judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, after a procedure that complies with due process and fair trial guarantees and that also provides for an independent review of the decision,” she said. “The misuse of disciplinary proceedings as a reprisals mechanism against independent judges is unacceptable.”   

According to media reports, on Wednesday Sri Lanka's Parliament appointed 11 lawmakers to investigate an impeachment motion accusing Chief Justice Bandaranayake of misusing power and having unexplained wealth. She denies wrongdoing, and opposition parties and independent analysts reportedly say the impeachment attempt is aimed at stifling judiciary independence and concentrating power with Sri Lanka's President.    

In the Special Rapporteur’s view, according to the news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the procedure for the removal of judges of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, set out in article 107 of the country’s constitution, allows the Parliament to exercise considerable control over the judiciary – and is therefore incompatible with both the principle of separation of power and article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.   

“I urge the authorities to reconsider the impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and ensure that any disciplinary procedure that she might have to undergo is in full compliance with the fundamental principles of due process and fair trial,” the Special Rapporteur added.  

(Adapted from a UN Press Release) 

November 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 16, 2012

ICTY Overturns Convictions of Two Former Croatian Generals

A United Nations war crimes tribunal today overturned the convictions of two former Croatian generals who were found guilty last year of various crimes against humanity during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, and ordered that they be released immediately. 

Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were convicted in April 2011 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which sits in The Hague. They were found guilty by the trial chamber of committing crimes against humanity – including murder, persecutions, deportation and plunder – and violations of the laws or customs of war, from July to September 1995, by participating in a joint criminal enterprise to permanently and forcibly remove the Serb civilian population from the Krajina region of Croatia.  Mr. Gotovina, who commanded the Split military district of the Croatian army from 1992 to 1996, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Mr. Markac, who served as the Assistant Interior Minister in charge of Special Police matters after 1994, was jailed for 18 years.

In today’s ruling, the Tribunal’s appeals chamber found that the trial chamber erred in concluding that all artillery impact sites located more than 200 metres from a target deemed legitimate served as evidence of unlawful attacks against towns in the Krajina region of Croatia.  “A majority of the appeals chamber further concluded that the trial chamber erred in finding that artillery attacks ordered by Mr. Gotovina and Mr. Markač were unlawful,” stated a news release issued by the Tribunal.

“The majority also held that the trial chamber erred in finding the existence of a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was the permanent and forcible removal of Serb civilians from the Krajina region,” it added.  As a result, the court reversed all of the convictions of the two men, and ordered their immediate release.

The ICTY was tasked by the Security Council with trying those responsible for the worst war crimes and other breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Since its inception 19 years ago, the Tribunal has indicted 161 persons.

In other action today, the court upheld the conviction of Jelena Rašic, who was found guilty in February of this year of having knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice by procuring false witness statements in exchange for money.

The court also upheld the 12-month prison sentence for Ms. Rašic, a member of the legal team of Milan Lukic, a Bosnian Serb who was sentenced in 2010 by the trial chamber to life imprisonment for crimes committed in the eastern Bosnian town of Višegrad.

(UN Press Release)

November 16, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Businesses Must Monitor and Help Prevent Human Trafficking

Businesses must help prevent and monitor the use of trafficked labour in their supply chains, a United Nations independent expert stressed this week, urging enterprises to do their part to protect human rights. “Trafficking in persons is a global phenomenon which crosses borders, markets and industries,” the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, said at an international expert meeting in Ankara, Turkey. “In today’s globalized world,” she added, “the risks of human trafficking in supply chains are significant throughout economic sectors and affect all States, whether as source, transit or destination countries.”

Over 20 specialists on human trafficking, business and human rights from international organizations, trade unions and non-governmental organizations gathered at the international meeting – which was convened by Ms. Ezeilo – to share information on trends and good practices to address trafficking and reach concrete proposals to protect the human rights of trafficked persons.

According to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ms. Ezeilo noted that supply chains in the global economy are often complex and involve multiple layers of sub-contractors, which hampers the monitoring and reporting process. However, she emphasized that both governments and businesses must increase their efforts to ensure human rights are respected.  Click here to see a copy of the news release.

“States have the primary obligation to protect against human rights violations, such as trafficking, committed by third parties including business enterprises, but businesses must also respect human rights,” she said, recalling the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.

Businesses are uniquely positioned to prevent or mitigate any risk of trafficking in the supply chains, the Special Rapporteur noted, adding that the connections between these two are often not well understood. “Businesses cannot shy away from tackling this issue not only because it amounts to human rights violations, but also because it creates reputational and financial risks to their operations,” she said. “However, the solution to the problem of human trafficking in supply chains lies beyond the reach of any single stakeholder.”

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

November 15, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tenth Anniversary of the International Criminal Court

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrates its 10th anniversary, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on States to “do what it takes” to enable the body to carry out its vital work to advance justice and accountability for the worst crimes.  “As we celebrate the Court’s significant accomplishments, we must also acknowledge that there are still many forces that seek to undermine the edifice we have all striven so hard to create,” Mr. Ban said in a message delivered by the UN Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien, to the opening of the 11th session of the Assembly of States Parties, taking place in The Hague. 

“In addition, the ICC confronts a task more challenging than any faced by other previous international criminal tribunals: contending with situations of active conflict,” he continued. “This is why it is important to ensure that governments are committed to doing what it takes to enable the Court to carry out its work – from capturing and transferring to the Court those who are the subject of arrest warrants to supporting the Court’s proceedings by making information and evidence available to the Prosecutor, the Defence and the legal representatives of victims.”

The ICC, based in The Hague, is the first permanent international court set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, entered into force on 1 July 2002.  The Court can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. The Security Council, the ICC Prosecutor or a State Party can initiate any proceedings, and the ICC only acts when countries themselves are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute.

There are seven situations currently under ICC investigation:

  • Central African Republic (CAR),
  • Côte d’Ivoire,
  • the Darfur region of western Sudan,
  • the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),
  • Kenya,
  • Libya and
  • Uganda.

Mr. Ban noted, in a separate video message for the anniversary, that the entry into force of the Rome Statute 10 years ago heralded “the dawn of an age of accountability,” noting that leaders and warlords can no longer perpetrate atrocities, safe in the knowledge that they will never be brought to justice for their heinous crimes. “Where once impunity prevailed, today there is an ever-growing emphasis on the responsibility of States to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he stated.

More than 500 high-level officials attended the ceremony to celebrate the Court’s anniversary, including Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the President of the ICC, Judge Sang-Hyun Song. 

“As we embark on the ICC’s second decade, let us celebrate our achievements and be prepared for the many challenges ahead of us. We all have different roles, mandates and backgrounds, but we have the same goal. Impunity for atrocity crimes must end. Accountability must prevail. Always and everywhere. To succeed, we must remain determined and united,” said Judge Song.  Click here to see his statement.

The ICC’s activities, he added, are having an enormous impact, not just on individuals prosecuted before the Court, but on the tens of thousands of direct victims, millions of people in the affected communities and societies, and several billion people under the legal protection of the Rome Statute system. 

The 11th session of the Assembly of States Parties, which meets until 22 November, is set to tackle a number of issues critical to the Court’s work, including the adoption of its budget and the elections of some of its officials.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

November 15, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Blogger is Dead After Being Arrested in Iran

The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom today called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of an Iranian blogger.  “I am deeply concerned about the death in prison of Sattar Beheshti,” said the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova. “I urge the authorities to investigate Mr. Beheshti's case and the exact circumstances of his death.  

Mr. Beheshti, 35, wrote about politics and human rights in his blog, Magalh 91, according to the UN agency. He was arrested last month, and died while in detention on 6 November – his body was retrieved by his family for burial, and is said to have shown signs of violence.  

“It is essential to respect the right of citizen and professional journalists to speak and write without fearing for their lives,” Ms. Bokova added. “Freedom of expression is a basic human right and essential component of democracy, good governance and rule of law.”

(UN Press Release)

November 15, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Argentina Files for Provisional Measures Against Ghana at ITLOS

Yesterday, Argentina requested that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) issue provisional measures against Ghana with respect to a dispute over the frigate ARA Libertad being detained by Ghana. Argentina brought the proceedings under article 290 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

According to Argentina, Ghana has illegally detained the ARA Libertad at the port of Tema since the second day of October. Argentina states that the ARA Libertad is a warship and a flagship of Argentina's Navy and, as such, is entitled to certain immunities. Argentina further claims that the ship was on an official visit to Ghana pursuant to an agreement between the two countries at the time it was detained.

Argentina requests that Ghana allow the frigate to leave the port of Tema and the national waters of Ghana immediately.


November 15, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Protocol to Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Approved

WHOOn Monday, the176 states parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control unanimously approved a new protocol to that Convention.  The new protocol is intended to better control the illicit trade in tobacco products.  The Framework Convention was done under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WTO) and has been one of the most rapidly ratified treaties in history.  More information regarding the Framework Convention may be found here.

The new protocol was thought necessary because the illicit trade in tobacco products is contributing to the spread of the tobacco epidemic, with serious public health consequences; is undermining price and tax measures designed to strengthen tobacco control; makes tobacco products more available to young people and other vulnerable groups; and has a disproportionate effect on developing countries.  The text of the new protocol may be found here.



November 14, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Syrian Opposition Forms Coalition Government and Receives International Recognition

The groups opposed to the Assad regime in Syria formed a coalition government earlier this week and almost immediately received recognition from several states as the legitimate government of Syria.  Thus far, six Gulf Arab states and France have recognized the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces.  The coalition takes the place of the former Syrian National Council and is led by Damascus preacher Mouaz Alkhatib, who has appealed for international recognition. France's recognition in particular was quite fulsome.  It stated that it recognizes the new Syrian national coalition "as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as future government of a democratic Syria making it possible to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad's regime".

Other states were more reserved.  While Arab League and EU foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Tuesday welcomed the coalition's formation as an important step, they did not recognize it as Syria's sole authority.  Likewise, the United States is proceeding more cautiously and is waiting to see whether the coalition lasts and is effective.


November 14, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ICC Prosecutor Calls on New Libyan Government to See Justice Done in Relation to Crimes Committed during the Overthrow of al-Qadhafi

Addressing the Security Council, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week called on Libya’s authorities to ensure that justice is served in relation to any crimes committed during the overthrow of the regime of former leader Muammar al-Qadhafi.  “I encourage the new Libyan government . . . to ensure that there is no amnesty for international crimes and no impunity for crimes, regardless of who the perpetrator is and who is the victim,” the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told the Council during a meeting on Libya, at UN Headquarters in New York. She added that her office takes note of two Libyan laws in this regard – one that grants amnesty at the national level for ‘acts made necessary by the 17 February revolution,’ and another which aims to ensure that any act found to be in contravention of international laws and human rights covenants will not be exempt. 

Libya has been undergoing a transition toward a modern democratic State after decadesof autocratic rule and toppling of the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi. Colonel Qadhafi ruled the North African country 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.

In her remarks to the Council, Ms. Bensouda also provided an update on the case against Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi, son of the former leader, and Abdullah Al-Senussi, a former senior intelligence official, as well as her office’s ongoing investigation in Libya. Mr. Qadhafi has been indicted by the ICC – which is not part of the UN system – in relation to attacks against protesters and rebels during last year’s uprising.

The prosecutor noted that in 2011 the ICC’s judges had issued arrest warrants for Muammar al-Qadhafi, Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi and Abdullah Al-Sennussi, and how – according to Libya’s National Transitional Council – the arrest warrants played a crucial role in delegitimizing the three men. “No investigations of these crimes would conceivably have been undertaken by the Qadhafi regime and ICC intervention was, at that time, the only way to establish justice for victims of the Qadhafi regime’s crimes,” Ms. Bensouda said.

Since then, Colonel Qadhafi has perished, while the other two men have been arrested and are in detention. However, the prosecutor flagged the fact that the Libyan authorities have challenged the admissibility of the case against Mr. Qadhafi, and have indicated their intent to also challenge the admissibility of the case against Mr. Al-Senussi in the near future. 

In October, judges of the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I convened a hearing to receive oral submissions on the Government of Libya’s admissibility challenge in relation to the case against Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi – centred on whether the case should be heard before the ICC or in Libya. At those hearings, the Libyan authorities asserted that they are investigating the same conduct as that investigated by Ms. Bensouda’s office and now before the ICC.

“It is worth recalling and emphasizing that the Rome Statute gives primary responsibility to national institutions to investigate and prosecute such crimes, with the ICC intervening only if they are inactive or otherwise unwilling or unable to do so genuinely,” Ms. Bensouda told the Council, referring to the statute which establishes, amongst other matters, the ICC's functions and jurisdiction. She added, “Nonetheless, as the Appeals Chamber has previously held, a State challenging admissibility must provide the Court ‘evidence of a sufficient degree of specificity and probative value that demonstrate that it is indeed investigating the case.’”

The prosecutor’s office, Ms. Bensouda noted, promotes and encourages genuine national proceedings to combat impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern. “We await rulings of the Court on Libya’s challenge,” she said. “Should the challenge ultimately succeed, my office will monitor those proceedings and cooperate with Libya, to the extent my mandate allows, in order to ensure that they remain genuine. “If, on the other hand,” she continued, “the Court rules that the case should be heard before the ICC, I will count on Libya’s full support and cooperation to ensure that the ICC’s proceedings are both successful and are seen to be successful by the Libyan public, the first and most important audience for any such proceedings at the ICC.”

In her briefing, Ms. Bensouda encouraged the Libyan Government to redouble its commitment to working with the ICC, as well as its active engagement with the judicial process. “My office appreciates the challenges inherent in the historic political transition underway in Libya – I believe that all can agree that justice must remain a key element of this transition,” she noted. 

She called on the international community and, in particular, the Security Council to intensify their efforts to assist the Government of Libya in any way they can to combat impunity and reinforce a culture of the rule of law.  “I believe that by working together, we can help address threats to Libya’s security, both from within and outside, that have been created by past and ongoing criminality, and demonstrate to the Libyan people that the world is committed to assisting them in their efforts to secure justice and lasting peace,” she said, while also calling on Libya’ authorities to make public its comprehensive strategy to address all crimes and end impunity in Libya. 

The ICC prosecutor also flagged that her office continues to collect evidence in relation to a possible second case in Libya, noting that no decision has yet been taken as to the focus of that case.  “We continue to collect information on allegations of rapes and sexual violence, which targeted both men and women; allegations against other members of the Qadhafi government for crimes committed during the events of 2011; and allegations of crimes committed by rebel or revolutionary forces, including against the residents of Tawergha, against individuals hors de combat and against detainees,” she said. 

The ICC is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes if national authorities with jurisdiction are unwilling or unable to do so genuinely.

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

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

November 14, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

UN General Assembly Again Calls for End to US Embargo of Cuba

For the 21st consecutive year at the United Nations, the General Assembly today adopted a resolution calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba.  By a vote of 188 in favour to three against (Israel, Palau and the United States) with two abstentions (Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia), the Assembly reiterated its call to all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures not conforming with their obligations to reaffirm freedom of trade and navigation.  The 193-member Assembly “once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible,” the text added. 

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, told the Assembly during the debate that preceded the vote that the last four years of US President Barack Obama’s administration has witnessed a “persistent tightening” of the blockade, which has been in place for over half a century. “There is no legitimate or moral reason to maintain this blockade,” he stated, adding that the use of “less strident and threatening rhetoric” and certain partial measures to relax the travel restrictions on residents of Cuban origin and others for academic, scientific or cultural purposes have failed to conceal the tightening of the blockade over the last four years. “The blockade is one of the main causes of the economic problems of our country and the major obstacle to its economic and social development,” he added. 

The US delegate, Ronald Godard, said that his country, like others, determined the conduct of its economic relationships with other States based on its best interest. With regards to Cuba, the priority of President Obama’s administration was to empower Cubans to determine their own future. Today’s resolution, he said, sought to “identify an external scapegoat” for Cuba’s economic problems, where in fact they were caused by the country’s policies over the last half a century. 

Irrespective of US policy, it was “unrealistic” to expect Cuba to thrive unless it opened its monopolies, respected international property rights and allowed unfettered access to the Internet, among other things, the representative added.

(UN Press Release)

November 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

18 Countries Elected to the UN Human Rights Council

The General Assembly has elected 18 countries to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for a period of three years beginning on January 1, 2013.  The countries elected (by secret ballot) were:

  • Argentina,
  • Brazil,
  • Côte d’Ivoire,
  • Estonia,
  • Gabon,
  • Germany,
  • Ireland,
  • Japan,
  • Kazakhstan,
  • Kenya,
  • Montenegro,
  • Pakistan,
  • Republic of Korea,
  • Sierra Leone,
  • United Arab Emirates,
  • United States and
  • Venezuela.

They will serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

The Council, composed of 47 members, is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. All of its members are elected by the world body’s General Assembly, and it has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva. 

The Council’s membership is based on equitable geographical distribution and seats are distributed as follows: 13 seats for African States, 13 seats for Asian States, 8 seats for Latin American and Caribbean States, 7 seats for Western European and other States, and 6 seats for Eastern European States.

The other members of the Council and the end of their terms are:

  • Angola (2013),
  • Austria (2014),
  • Benin (2014),
  • Botswana (2014),
  • Burkina Faso (2014),
  • Chile (2014),
  • Congo (2014),
  • Costa Rica (2014),
  • Czech Republic (2014),
  • Ecuador (2013),
  • Guatemala (2013),
  • India (2014),
  • Indonesia (2014),
  • Italy (2014),
  • Kuwait (2014),
  • Libya (2013),
  • Malaysia (2013),
  • Maldives (2013),
  • Mauritania (2013),
  • Peru (2014),
  • Philippines (2014),
  • Poland (2013),
  • Qatar (2013),
  • Republic of Moldova (2013),
  • Romania (2014),
  • Spain (2013),
  • Switzerland (2013),
  • Thailand (2013) and
  • Uganda (2013).

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)

November 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Mladic Files

Here's one last reminder that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum holds an event in Chicago with 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.


November 13, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)