Friday, March 22, 2013
A senior United Nations official has urged Nepal to rectify a decree that gives a truth and reconciliation commission the power to grant amnesty for serious human rights violations. “Such amnesties would not only violate core principles under international law but would also weaken the foundation for a genuine and lasting peace in Nepal,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The 2006 peace accord that ended the conflict in Nepal had agreed to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate human rights violations that occurred from 1996 to 2006, during which at least 13,000 people were killed and 1,300 went missing. While there had been an agreement to establish such a commission, no law had been passed to do so until last week – part of a package to break a long-standing political deadlock and move the country towards fresh elections.
“An amnesty for those who committed serious human rights violations will deny the right of thousands of Nepalese to truth and justice. This will not provide a sustainable road to peace,” Ms. Pillay said.
The High Commissioner added that she was particularly disturbed that the text of the decree was developed and passed in a secretive manner, without consultations with civil society, victims, families of the victims or national human rights institutions. “Past experiences elsewhere in the world have shown that without the active involvement and support of these key affected groups, mechanisms of this type may lead to further divisions and disagreements, so producing the opposite result to that intended,” she said.
The commission will also have the power to conduct reconciliation processes without the consent of the parties involved, and Ms. Pillay warned that the Government must not force people to reconcile. “I am also concerned that the ordinance may be used to avoid or delay criminal investigations and prosecutions of conflict-related cases. Criminal justice should be reinforced, not replaced by other transitional justice processes such as truth and reconciliation commissions,” she added, noting that Nepal should address gaps in its law that adequately deal with violations such as torture and enforced disappearances.
Ms. Pillay stressed that her office (OHCHR) stands ready to provide support and advice to the Government to amend the decree so that it complies with international laws and principles, and called for open and broad-based consultation as the process continues.
(UN Press Release)
Bosco Ntaganda was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). His alleged crimes include recruiting child soldiers, murder, and rape.
This week, he walked into the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda to turn himself in and to be transferred to the Netherlands for trial before the ICC.
“The surrender of Bosco Ntaganda and his early transfer to the ICC will help advance the peace process in the DRC,” said Roger Meece, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO). “It will also send a strong signal to other human rights offenders that they are not beyond justice.”
This is an important event in international criminal justice. A suspect who turns himself in shows respect for the international criminal court and for the basic principles of international law.
The United States found itself is a complicated positiion by not being a party to the International Criminal Court. Rwanda, as well, is not a party to the International Criminal Court. However a team from the ICC is reportedly traveling to Rwanda to accomplish the transfer and it reportedly has assurances from the Rwandan government that they will not prohibit his transfer to the Hague.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced in a press release this week that it has approved the Reform of the Rules of Procedure, Policies and Practices by means of Resolution 1/2013. Here is further information from the IACHR press release:
"This reform is the result of a process begun in 2011 for the purpose of strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights. The process included as essential input the recommendations and observations presented by Member States, civil society, victims, academics, and other stakeholders in the inter-American human rights system. In approving this reform, the Commission is renewing its commitment to the defense and promotion of the fundamental rights of the human person.
Over the past two years, the Commission has carefully considered its procedures and mechanisms, through a process that included discussion forums, public consultations, and hearings, in order to garner the opinions, inputs, and experiences of all interested parties. The Commission considered these contributions with an open, constructive frame of mind, based on the principle that any reform must be aimed at strengthening the protection and promotion of fundamental rights, which is the useful purpose for which this institution was established and one of the principal objectives of the Organization of American States (OAS).
In adopting this reform, the IACHR set out to strengthen the Commission’s capacity to fulfill, in an independent and autonomous manner, its mandate to promote the observance and protection of human rights. The Commission also took into account that the reform must reconcile legal certainty with the flexibility necessary to respond to the needs of victims and persons at risk, improving access of all victims of human rights violations to the inter-American system. In addition, the Commission sought to enhance the transparency of its actions by providing accessible, complete, and relevant information in its accountability to all users of the human rights system. This reform also aims to identify best practices and challenges in the “protection of the essential rights of man and the creation of circumstances that will permit him to achieve spiritual and material progress and attain happiness,” as established in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The IACHR also took into consideration that in order to fulfill its mandate, the Commission must harmoniously develop its functions of promotion and protection, and that it must assist Member States in complying with their international responsibilities to strengthen their internal capacity and improve their mechanisms for protecting human rights.
Through the resolution, the IACHR amended Articles 25, 28, 29, 30, 36, 37, 42, 44, 46, 59, 72, 76, and 79 of its Rules of Procedure. It also adopted measures on institutional policy and practices - including modifications to the Strategic Plan - implementation of which will depend on the availability of the respective funds in a sustainable and predictable manner. Due to their complexity, the reform measures adopted require adequate time for preparing measures for their practical implementation and for obtaining additional funds. Consequently, the reform will take effect on August 1, 2013."
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Chicago Bar Association International and Foreign Law Committee held a joint meeting today with the Chicago Bar Association Probate Practice Committee to discuss the topic of "Death and Inheritance in an International Community." The program attracted a large audience -- something not surprising in a city that is proud of its immigrant heritage and international connections. The speakers were:
- Lynne R. Ostfeld, a Chicago-based attorney with an affiliated office in Paris France;
- Sandra Chiarlone, a lawyer in both Italy and the United States; and
- Edmund Gronkiewicz, of counsel at Reda Ciprian Magnone LLC, Chicago
Pictured here (from left to right) are Sandra Chiarlone of Genoa, Italy; Ramsey Senno, Vice Chair of the Chicago Bar Associaion International and Foreign Law Committee; Lynne Ostfeld, Chair of the Chicago Bar Association International and Foreign Law Committee; and former CBA International and Foreign Law Committee Chair Professor Mark Wojcik of The John Marshall Law School. The photo was taken by another Italian attorney, Stefano Viola.
Fun secret fact? Lynne and Mark competed together as law students in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition.
Happy birthday to Professor William B.T. Mock of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, seen here in a photo taken last week at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica. Professor Mock was an editor of Human Rights in Europe: Commentary on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, a book he published with colleagues at the University of Sardinia Faculty of Law. He is working now on new international law case book to be published by Carolina Academic Press.
Click here for an excerpt from the European Human Rights book published by Carolina Academic Press.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Former Head of State Finally on Trial for Genocide in Guatemala -- Case Marks the First Time that Any Former Head of State is Being Tried for Genocide by a National Tribunal
The top United Nations human rights official has applauded the beginning of the “historic” trial of Guatemala’s former head of State and former head of intelligence who are both accused of crimes committed in the Central American nation over 30 years ago, and urged local authorities to ensure the execution of a fair and independent legal proceeding. “I welcome the beginning of this historic trial, and I hope that it will signal the arrival of long-awaited justice for thousands of victims of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed during the murderous 36-year conflict in Guatemala,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said today in a press release. She also pointed out that it was “the first time, anywhere in the world,” that a former head of State was being tried for genocide by a national tribunal.
Former president Efraín Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez stand accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for their roles in Guatemala’s conflict, which spanned from 1960 to 1996, and saw, according to news reports, an estimated 200,000 killed or disappeared. The trial is set to start on Tuesday after Guatemala’s Constitutional Court rejected a writ of protection filed by Ríos Montt’s lawyers citing a 1986 amnesty law.
Ms. Pillay commended the Constitutional Court’s decision and emphasized that genocide and crimes against humanity “should never be covered by amnesties,” adding that “along with war crimes, these are among the gravest crimes known to mankind.”
During the conflict, Guatemala became the theatre for numerous displays of brutality which were ultimately catalogued and revealed by the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission of Guatemala in its report on the war.
At the press conference announcing the release of the report at UN Headquarters in 1999, two members of the Commission, Christian Tomuschat of Germany and Otilia Lux de Cotí of Guatemala, described the “atrocious nature” of some of the massacres committed by Government forces against ethnic enclaves during the conflict. In particular, they noted the Government’s “scorched earth” policy which led to the destruction of entire villages and the murders of all their inhabitants, including women, children, babies and elderly people. The two experts also stated that pregnant women and babies had been victimized with “particular brutality.”
“Until quite recently, no one believed a trial like this could possibly take place in Guatemala, and the fact that it is happening there, 30 years after the alleged crimes were committed, should give encouragement to victims of human rights violations all over the world,” Ms. Pillay stated.
Voicing concern over a recent wave of attacks against journalists, judicial personnel and human rights defenders in the country, she urged authorities to take extra steps in ensuring the protection of all those involved in the high-profile case.
“The protection of all those involved in this crucial case is essential, if the rule of law is to be seen to be respected, and truth and justice are to prevail in Guatemala.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations has expressed concern over Hungary’s adoption of an amendment to the constitution that threatens the independence of its judiciary, and stressed this could have a profound effect on the human rights of its citizens. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the amendment to the Fundamental Law (constitution) was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament last Monday without proper public discussion on issues that may affect the population’s human rights.
“The new amendment may further strengthen the already extensive powers over the judiciary held by the President of the National Judicial Office,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva. “For example, the amendment upholds the President’s right to reassign cases to a different court – a provision that was previously adopted as a transitional measure and was subsequently struck down as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.”
This provision is also in violation of the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights, to which Hungary is a party.
“This Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law raises serious concerns in a variety of areas, including possible threats to the independence of the judiciary, the authority and the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and, by extension, to the rule of law in general,” Mr. Colville said. He also welcomed recent reports stating that Hungary is recognizing the role of the Venice Commission to advice on its compliance with international and regional norms. Established in 1990, the Commission is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Corruption kills by siphoning money from humanitarian and development projects, the top United Nations human rights official today last week, urging a coordinated human-rights based approach among UN agencies, civil society and inter-governmental groups to fight the scourge. “Corruption is an enormous obstacle to the realization of all human rights, in practical terms – civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as the right to development,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the UN Human Rights Council. She noted that from 2000 to 2009, developing countries lost $8.44 trillion to illicit financial flows – equivalent to 10 times more than the foreign aid they received.
The money stolen through corruption every year, she pointed out, is enough to feed the world’s hungry 80 times over, while bribes and theft swell the total cost of projects to provide safe drinking water and sanitation around the world by as much as 40 per cent. Noting the growing awareness of the intrinsic links between human rights and the struggle to combat corruption, the High Commissioner told the panel on the ‘negative impact of corruption on human rights’ held in Geneva, that “there here is an urgent need to increase synergy.”
She flagged the need for greater coordination to implement international human rights conventions and the UN Convention against Corruption, the legally binding, global anti-corruption instrument promoted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). At least 164 countries have so far become Parties to the Convention.
Ms. Pillay also called for stronger policy coherence and collaboration between UNODC, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), her Office, civil society and the intergovernmental processes in Vienna, Geneva and New York. With an increasing emphasis on creating a post-2015 development agenda – a set of new anti-poverty goals to take over from where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) leave off – Ms. Pillay said her office is increasingly “convinced that efforts to combat corruption are most effective when coupled with an approach that respects all human rights, including those of the accused.
“As we continue to clarify the links between corruption and human rights, groups working to combat corruption locally and internationally will see more clearly the value of working with agencies in the field of human rights,” Ms. Pillay said, adding that the reverse was also true.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations human rights office has welcomed a new law in Bolivia which broadens the protection of women against various forms of violence. “We welcome the promulgation, on 9 March 2013, of the Comprehensive Law to guarantee women a life free from violence in Bolivia (Law 348), which broadens protection of women against various forms of violence and establishes the eradication of violence against women as a priority of the State,” the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
The law also includes the crime of ‘femicide’ – in which a woman is murdered due to the fact that she is female – in the penal code, with a prison term of 30 years without pardon.
The draft was elaborated over the past three years, with the participation of the main women’s organizations and State institutions, and the technical assistance of the UN human rights office in Bolivia, Mr. Colville said. It was approved by both chambers of the Bolivian National Congress in February and signed into law around the time of International Women’s Day, observed on 8 March.
In her Women’s Day message, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged authorities to adopt the necessary legal frameworks to protect women against violence, trafficking and gender-motivated killings saying the indifference towards violence against women leads to a lack of protection for the victims and lack of prosecution of perpetrators.
Lat year, Bolivian President Evo Morales and the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet, hosted a friendly soccer match in New York to support Bolivia’s Year to End all forms of Violence against Women and Girls.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Ongoing reforms in Myanmar are improving the human rights situation in the country, but a large gap still remains between these efforts and their implementation on the ground, a United Nations independent expert said last week. “While the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed, such as discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and the ongoing human rights violations in relation to the conflict in Kachin state,”said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana. “Now is the time to address these shortcomings before they become further entrenched and destabilise the reform process.”
Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have left 115,000 people displaced in Rakhine state, while some 75,000 people have fled their homes in Kachin since fighting began in June 2011 between Government troops and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The fighting intensified in September and December last year, before authorities in Myanmar announced a unilateral ceasefire in January.
“The Government must establish the truth about what happened in Rakhine state during the two waves of communal violence last June and October, and hold those responsible for human rights violations to account,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said, offering his support to pursue further investigations.
Mr. Ojea Quintana also urged the Government to ease the harsh restriction on freedom of movement for the 120,000 people who remain in camps for the internally displaced in Rakhine and to begin their relocation into integrated communities before the start of the rainy season, which will flood many camps.
In Kachin, he welcomed the recent de-escalation of violence while highlighting the needs of those who have been displaced by the fighting. “I’m particularly concerned about the situation of the 40,000 displaced in non-Government controlled areas of Kachin state, and urged the Government to provide humanitarian organizations with regular access to these areas,” he said.
In addition, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over the rights of journalists in the country due to a draft law that threatens to undo recent progress. “This would be giving with one hand while taking away with the other.” He also noted that while people now can associate freely, protestors continue to be imprisoned and police officers are still using excessive force when managing demonstrators.Mr. Ojea Quintana acknowledged progress in other areas, such as the release of over 800 prisoners of conscience since May 2011, but called for the immediate release of the over 250 who remain behind bars.
“I welcome the committee set up by the Government to identify remaining prisoners of conscience, and recommend that it be established as a permanent body to guard against future detentions for political reasons and to help ensure that the rights and freedoms of all those released are fully respected,” he said.
Special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)