Friday, January 11, 2013
Fiji Government To Amend To Draft Constitution PM Bainimarama to ‘extract positive elements’ from draft UVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Jan. 10, 2013) – Fiji’s government was today officially tasked by President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau to amend the country’s Draft Constitution prepared by an independent Commission headed by Professor Yash Ghai. While making the announcement in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, Ratu Epeli said they must consider the key observations of the draft. He said many of the draft’s provisions put Fiji “in the past,” saying Ghai and the commissioners “succumbed” to views of those who sought to maintain divisions in society. Ratu Epeli continued, saying the “Ghai Draft” appeared to negotiate between different political interests “as an appeasement.” He said the draft neglected “true democratic representation” by creating an unnecessarily-large body of unelected people to decide on key issues for Fiji. The president also said the draft would undo many positive changes brought about by the current government. Ratu Epeli added the draft called for bureaucratic, burdensome institutions that would create inefficiency. The president did laud some of the draft’s content, including fundamental rights, good governance, accountability, and judiciary independence, adding much should be used for specific laws as opposed to the constitution itself. The new draft will reportedly be available for deliberation by the end of January 2013.(mew)
The United Nations human rights office has expressed serious concern over the convictions and sentencing of 14 political activists in Vietnam for subversive activities. In a news briefing in Geneva, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, said that the 14 activists were convicted on 9 January in Vietnam's Supreme People's Court, in Nghe An province, for "subversion of the administration" under article 79 of the country's Criminal Code.
According to OHCHR, the activists were accused of actively participating in and being members of a political organization known as the Viet Tan. Reportedly, the Vietnamese Government considers the exiled organization to be a militant group. The activists received sentences ranging between three and 13 years, with three of them receiving the 13-year sentence. All had been held in custody for more than a year prior to the trial.
"Although Viet Tan is a peaceful organization advocating for democratic reform, the Government has deemed it to be a 'reactionary organization,'" Mr. Colville said. "None of those convicted are alleged to have been involved in violent acts."
The spokesperson also expressed alarm over the fact that that the convictions were handed down after only two days of trial, and noted that these latest convictions -- as well as the arrest and detention in late December of a human rights lawyer, Le Quoc Quan -- exemplify the limited space for critical voices in Vietnam. "We urge the Government of Vietnam to review its use of the Criminal Code to imprison people who are critical of its policies, and to review all such cases violating freedom of expression and association in the country," Mr. Colville added.
(UN Press Release)
The United Nations human rights office today voiced its "deep dismay" over the execution of a young Sri Lankan domestic worker, Rizana Nafeek, in Saudi Arabia earlier this week. "We are deeply troubled by reports of irregularities in her detention and trial, including that no lawyer was present to assist her in key stages of her interrogation and trial, that language interpretation was poor, and Ms. Nafeek's contention that she was physically assaulted and forced to sign a confession under duress," Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told a news briefing in Geneva.
Ms. Nafeek, who arrived in Saudi Arabia from Sri Lanka to work as a housemaid in 2005, was charged with the murder of her employers' baby a week after her arrival. She was executed on Wednesday.
"Despite a birth certificate that allegedly showed she was a minor at the time of the baby's death and repeated expressions of concern from the international community, she was convicted of murder, sentenced to death and beheaded," Mr. Colville noted.
In November 2010, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, sent an urgent appeal in connection with Ms. Nafeek's case. In June 2007, his predecessor, Philip Alston, had raised concerns about the imposition of the death penalty for an alleged crime committed when Ms. Nafeek was still below eighteen years of age.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs such as Mr. Heyns and Mr. Alston, are appointed by the Geneva-based 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.
"We note with great concern the sharp increase in the use of capital punishment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2011," Mr. Colville said. "We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to join the growing world's movement away from the death penalty."
The spokesperson also noted that the High Commissioner -- Navi Pillay -- strongly supports the global movement away from the death penalty, and was pleased that a clear majority of UN Member States had recently voted for a General Assembly resolution which calls for a moratorium on the death penalty.
On 21 November last year, the Assembly adopted the non-binding resolution by a recorded vote of 111 in favour to 41 against, with 34 abstentions. In it, the Assembly expressed its deep concern about the application of the death penalty, and called on States to respect international standards providing safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of persons facing the death penalty.
States were called on to not impose capital punishment for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age and pregnant women, as well as urged to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty might be imposed and establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
(UN Press Release)
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced today that Laos has ratified its accession package and plans to officially join the WTO on February 2, 2013, becoming the 158th member of the WTO. More information regarding Laos' joinder and the details of its agreement may be found here.
The annual meeting of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) has just concluded. The International Law Section held a very interesting program considering two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the rights and responsibilies of corporations - Kiobel and Citizens United - and the relevance of international law.
As a reminder, the Kiobel case pending before the Supreme Court involves the issue of whether corporations may be held liable for human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). In addition, the Supreme Court has asked the parties to consider whether the ATS gives the Court jurisdiction when there is little, if any, connection between the parties and facts and the United States. Thus, the case considers whether and to what extent corporations may be treated as persons and held responsible for their actions under U.S. and international law.
In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations hold free speech rights similar to natural persons, such that many laws limiting corporate spending on political campaigns are unconstitutional. The case raised many concerns about both domestic and foreign corporate spending and influence on U.S. elections.
The AALS panel considered whether corporations should be considered the equivalent of natural persons and be subject to similar rights and responsibilities. It also considered whether the U.S. Supreme Court's jurisprudence has been inconsistent in this regard. Finally, these cases also raise the issue of corporate "citizenship" or "nationality," especially in a world where many corporations operate in multiple countries.
Congratulations to Christiana Ochoa of the Indiana University School of Law for organizing a very interesting panel and to the participants for leading a thought-provoking discussion. For members of AALS, the podcast of the proceedings should be available on the AALS website by the end of the month.
Congratulations also to the new officers of the International Law Section of AALS: Stephanie Farrior of Vermont (Chair), Cindy Galway Buys of Southern Illinois (Chair Elect), Matthew Charity of Western New England (Secretary) and Shalanda Baker of San Francisco (Treasurer).
Members of this year's Executive Committee include Elizabeth Burleson (Pace), David Gartner (Arizona State), Virginia Harper Ho (Kansas), Ved Nanda (Denver), Christiana Ochoa (Indiana), Hari Osofsky (Minnesota), Cymie Payne (Rutgers) and Anastasia Telesetsky (Idaho).
Next year's AALS Annual Meeting will be held in New York City from January 2-5, 2014.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “deeply regrets” the decision of a Bahraini appeals court to uphold the sentences, including life imprisonment, against 20 Bahraini political activists, according to his spokesperson. “He reiterates his firm belief that the only way to promote peace, stability, justice and prosperity in Bahrain is through a national dialogue which addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis, and in which all communities can participate freely, without fear or intimidation,” the spokesperson added in a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York. “The Secretary-General calls on all Bahrainis to contribute to creating a peaceful and conducive atmosphere for such a dialogue to begin as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said, noting that the UN chief also calls on the Government of Bahrain to follow through on its recently reiterated commitment to judicial reform.
In early 2012, the Gulf country experienced clashes between security forces and demonstrators, a year after widespread civil protests first emerged there. In June 2011, the King of Bahrain had established the so-called Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (also known as the Bassiouni Commission) to investigate incidents that occurred during the country’s unrest.
According to media reports, the 20 activists involved in the Court of Cassation’s decision – made on Monday – were among opposition leaders and others originally convicted by a special military tribunal in 2011 of plotting to overthrow the State, and had been sentenced to between five years and life in jail. All 20 were reported to have lost an appeal in a civilian court last September, and the appeal court’s decision yesterday upheld their convictions – although only 13 of them had appealed, with the remaining seven tried in absentia because they were out of the country or in hiding.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
The United Nations today expressed disappointment over Bahrain’s decision to uphold the convictions of 13 pro-democracy activists in spite of concerns raised by an independent human rights panel and appeals by the international community. “We regret that Bahrain’s highest court on Monday upheld the convictions of 13 activists for their role in pro-democracy demonstrations, after two years of trials and despite the conclusions of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the appeals by the international community concerning the judicial procedure and allegations of torture,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Cécile Pouilly, told reporters in Geneva.
“These persons are political and human rights activists and we are concerned they may have been wrongly convicted for legitimate activities. We are also concerned by the extreme harshness of some of the sentences, including imprisonment for life,” she added.
In early 2012, the Gulf country experienced clashes between security forces and demonstrators, a year after widespread civil protests first emerged there. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was established by the King of Bahrain in June 2011 to investigate incidents that occurred during the country’s unrest.
At the news briefing, the OHCHR spokesperson also condemned the arbitrary detention of the Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, who was arrested on 17 December 2012 while monitoring a protest in the capital, Manama. Mr. Al-Muhafdhah was also sending messages on the online platform Twitter about attacks on protesters and posted a picture of a demonstrator wounded during the protest. According to the UN agency, the case is expected to be reviewed by the public prosecution office on Wednesday. “We call on the Bahraini authorities to release him immediately,” Ms. Pouilly said.
(UN Press Release)
Monday, January 7, 2013
In news from the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week:
(1) A total of nine candidates were nominated to be the next Director General of the WTO before the deadline closed.
(2) The WTO announced that at the request of the parties to the dispute, “European Communities – Measures Prohibiting the Importation and Marketing of Seal Products” (DS400 and DS401), the panel has agreed to start its meeting with the parties scheduled for 18 to 20 February 2013 with a session open to public viewing at the WTO Headquarters in Geneva.
(3) Japan notified the WTO Secretariat on 20 December 2012 of a request for consultations with China concerning China’s measures imposing anti-dumping duties on high performance stainless steel seamless tubes from Japan.
More information on all these items may be found on the WTO website at www.wto.org.