Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

To all our many friends and readers, we wish you much happiness, health and prosperity in the new year!

Cindy and Mark

December 31, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Argentina adopts new law to prevent torture

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release today welcoming the National Congress of Argentina’s recent approval of legislation that creates the System for Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The IACHR press release states:

"The IACHR applauds this action as an important step in protecting the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty in Argentina and the fulfillment of this its international obligations on human rights. The IACHR urges the Argentine government to take the necessary measures so that the system established by the new law has the adequate resources and institutional support necessary to perform its duties effectively and with the autonomy and independence required by its nature and monitoring functions."

Currently, fourteen Member States of the Organization of American States have ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT): Argentina (11/15/04), Bolivia (11/23/06), Brazil (01/12/07), Chile (12/12/08), Costa Rica (12/01/05), Ecuador (07/20/10), Guatemala (06/09/08), Honduras (5/23/06), Mexico (04/11/05), Nicaragua (02/25/09), Panama (06/02/11), Paraguay (12/02/05), Peru (09/14/06) and Uruguay (12/08/05). Nine of these States have adopted laws creating national prevention mechanisms. The Commission urges the rest of the OAS Member States to ratify OP-CAT as well.


December 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Law Student Writing Competition (International Humanitarian Law)

American University Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (Center) and the American Society of International Law’s Lieber Society on the Law of Armed Conflict (ASIL) are holding their the Third Annual International Humanitarian Law Student Writing Competition.

The Competition seeks submissions of academic papers on the topic of international humanitarian law (IHL) from students currently enrolled in a law degree program in the United States or abroad. The purpose of the Competition is to enhance scholarship and deepen understanding among students in this important area of international law. The winning authors will be flown to Washington, D.C. to present their papers at a conference at American University Washington College of Law focused on emerging issues in IHL with a panel of expert professors and practitioners. In addition, winners will receive a complimentary registration to the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law in Washington, D.C. on April 3-6, 2013, and a one-year ASIL student membership. Last year, the Competition received over 50 submissions from 13 different countries.

This Competition is part of a multi-pronged initiative to expand and support the teaching and study of IHL among both students and professors in which both the Center and ASIL have been deeply involved.  In 2007, the Center published a study with the International Committee of the Red Cross on Teaching International Humanitarian Law in US Law Schools (available at center/ihl_report.cfm). The study identified a growing need for resources to support and expand the teaching of IHL among law faculty, but also a desire to support the interest of students in learning about IHL. The IHL Student Writing Competition promotes and supports student interest and deepening scholarship in IHL by providing students with a tangible way to become more directly involved in the global discourse around IHL.

Further details and the comprehensive rules, submission guidelines, and award information is availableby clicking here. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2013 at 12:00 pm (noon) EST.

Hat tip to the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law


December 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

More nominations for WTO Director General

WTOTwo more persons have been nominated for the post of Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Indonesia has nominated Ms. Mari Pangestu and Mexico has nominated Mr. Herminio Blanco.

Ms. Mari Pangestu served as the Minister of Trade for Indonesia from 2004 to 2011.  She currently holds the position of Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy.

Mr. Blanco was the chief negotiator of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on behalf of Mexico.  He also served as the Secretary of Commerce and Industry in the cabinet of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Nominations close later this week on December 31.  On January 29, 2013, the WTO General Council will hold a meeting at which the candidates will present themselves to the membership.


December 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Houston Journal of International Law

For those of you looking for something to do until classes start again in January, the Houston Journal of International Law welcomes articles, papers, and comments addressing issues of international law, immigration, and human rights. The Journal welcomes topics relevant to both practitioners and the academy. The Houston Journal of International Law is received by subscribers world-wide, including a number of universities, law firms, and the United States Supreme Court.  Please email submissions to  For more information on submission guidelines, please visit  Submissions will be considered on a rolling basis. 

Hat tip to Jordan Paust.

We also invite other international law journals (in the United States and around the world) to send us invitations to publish that we can post here for our blog readers around the world.  Our readers are also writers!


December 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Snapshot of Same-Sex Marriage Around the World

Same-sex marriage is now legal in the following countries:  Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark,  Iceland, the Netherlands (and the Caribbean island of Saba), Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.

In Mexico, same-sex marriage is legal in the Federal District (Mexico City) and in the states of Oaxaca and Quintana Roo. Under a constitutional decision by the Mexican Supreme Court, other states in Mexico must recognize same-sex marriages performed in the Federal District, Oaxaca, and Quintana Roo.  

In Brazil, same-sex marriage is legal in the states of Alagoas, Bahia and São Paulo. Elsewhere in Brazil, same-sex couples can enter into a "stable union" then go before a judge and convert the union into a full marriage.

In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington -- and in Washington, D.C.  California will also recognize same-sex marriages performed during a window when it was legal in that state.

Same-sex marriage also is legal within the Suquamish Indian tribe in Washington state and the Coquille Indian tribe in Oregon.

h/t to RW.  (mew)

December 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

International Environmental Law Development: The UN General Assembly Upgrades the UN Environment Programme

World governments have “upgraded” the global status of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) by opening its governing body to all 193 UN Member States. In a resolution establishing universal membership of the former 58-member UNEP Governing Council, the UN General Assembly signalled it was reinforcing the agency’s role as the world’s “leading environmental authority” for setting the global environmental agenda, UNEP said in a news release.

Crucially, the resolution renders UNEP eligible to receive “secure, stable and increased financial resources” from the regular budget of the UN, and “calls for other UNEP donors to increase their voluntary funding,” the release said. “The decision by the General Assembly to strengthen and upgrade UNEP is a watershed moment,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner. “Universal membership of UNEP’s Governing Council establishes a new, fully-representative platform to strengthen the environmental dimension of sustainable development, and provides all governments with an equal voice on the decisions and actions needed to support the global environment, and ensure a fairer share of the world’s resources for all,” he added.

The General Assembly established UNEP a year after the UN’s 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment – which is widely credited with having placed global environmental issues on the international agenda – called for the creation of a specialized agency within the UN Secretariat to help States coordinate environmental policy.

For its part, today’s General Assembly resolution marks the first major structural change to UNEP in its four-decade history. “The resolution reaffirms UNEP’s role as the UN's authority on the environment, and provides the mandate to enhance our ongoing work on bringing the latest science to policy-makers, directly supporting national and regional environmental efforts, improving access to technology, and other key areas,” said Mr. Steiner. “For UNEP and the environmental community, this is a truly historic day.”

The resolution follows commitments by world leaders at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil in June, to improve the institutional framework for a development agenda that meets human needs while also protecting the environment. “The provisions contained in the resolution are among the first practical steps by the UN General Assembly to implement the outcomes of Rio+20,” UNEP said.

The reform comes as the latest edition of UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report, released in June 2012, said that significant progress had been made in only four of the 90 leading environmental goals agreed by the international community. The report warned that, if current trends continued, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur, according to the UNEP release.

In light of the report, the new General Assembly resolution reflects the “commitment of member states to improve global cooperation on the environment in order to meet such challenges, and to promote the integration of the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainable development, as well as improving coordination within the UN system,” UNEP said.

The first meeting of the new Governing Council will take place in February.

Click here for more information about the United Nations Environment Programme.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

December 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN General Assembly Resolutions Against Female Genital Mutilation

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the passing of an “historic” United Nations resolution yesterday calling on countries to eliminate female genital mutilation, adding that the move was an important step towards a world free from violence against women.  “Harmful practices, such as genital mutilation, constitute a serious threat to the health of millions of women and girls worldwide and violate their fundamental rights,” said a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.  

In a series of five resolutions passed yesterday by the General Assembly, the UN body took what it described as “groundbreaking” action against the brutal practice which has affected an estimated 140 million women worldwide, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). 

Female genital mutilation/cutting refers to several different harmful practices involving the cutting of the female genitals for non-medical reasons. The procedure – which often causes severe bleeding and problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths – is characterized by the WHO in four types: clitoridectomy, or the partial or total removal of the clitoris; excision, or the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; infibulations, or the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris; and all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. 

“The resolutions approved yesterday urge countries to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilation, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, awareness-raising and allocating sufficient resources to protect women and girls from this form of violence,” the statement added. 

Pointing to diverse initiatives – such as the COMMIT launched by UN Women and the Secretary-General’s own UNiTE to End Violence against Women, which works in collaboration with governments and civil society to advance legislation and social mobilization – the statement further noted that ending violence against women remained a priority for the Secretary-General during his second term mandate.

At a news conference held yesterday to mark the resolutions’ passing at UN Headquarters in New York, the representative of Burkina Faso, Der Kogda, acknowledged that the resolution, “strengthening the global effort to eradicate female genital mutilation,” had been adopted by consensus.  

Sponsored by two thirds of the Member States, including the Group of African States, the text condemns the practice, recognizing it as harmful to women and girls and a serious threat to their health.  States were also urged to condemn female genital mutilation to protect women against all forms of violence.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

December 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Human Rights in Eritrea

The Government of Eritrea must cooperate with an international mandate to provide “an objective, fair and impartial picture” of the human rights situation in the Horn of Africa country, a United Nations independent expert urged yesterday.   “I hope that the Eritrean Government would consider the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as an opportunity to start a fresh and constructive dialogue on human rights issues that have been raised by the international community and other stakeholders,” Beedwantee Keetharuth, the newly-appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, stated in a news release.   

According to multiple reports, the human rights situation in Eritrea is generally viewed as being poor, with allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as widespread constraints on freedom of speech. In one example dating to early September of this year, the UN condemned the deaths of three Eritrean media workers who had been kept in a prison camp for over a decade.    

In July this year, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it strongly condemned the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights committed by the Eritrean authorities, the severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, and the forced conscription of citizens for indefinite periods.  At the same time, it decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the matter.   

In keeping with her mandate, Ms. Keetharuth, a lawyer from Mauritius with extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations across Africa, is expected to present her report on Eritrea’s human rights situation to the Council in June 2013. Ahead of that, she had requested meetings with the country’s diplomats in Geneva and London at the start of her mandate this past November. She noted, however, that the meetings had yet to take place.  “The aim was to introduce myself and present my vision of the mandate in a spirit of openness, as well as to explore avenues for cooperation,” she continued. “I have now requested to travel to Eritrea in early 2013.”   

In the news release, Ms. Keetharuth expressed faith that the Eritrean Government would ultimately view her mandate as an opportunity to carefully address the country’s “compliance with its human rights obligations as contained in international treaties to which the country is a party.”  In the meantime, the UN expert added that she would engage with other parties affected by human rights issues in the Eritrea, including those who consider themselves to be the victims of alleged human rights violations, human rights defenders and other civil society actors.    

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs such as Ms. Keetharuth, are appointed by the 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)

December 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ABA Publishes a New Edition of its Book on Careers in International Law

Career Book PhotoThe American Bar Association Section of International Law has published a new edition of one of its most popular titles, Careers in International Law.

Jeff Golden (in photo, on right) and I are two of the contributing authors.

Mark E. Wojcik (mew)

December 22, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 21, 2012

U.N. Security Council Authorizes International Support Mission for Mali

United Nations Security Council LogoThe Security Council yesterday authorized the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali, to be known as AFISMA, for an initial period of one year to assist the authorities in recovering rebel-held regions in the north and restoring the unity of the country.

Northern Mali has been occupied by radical Islamists after fighting broke out in January between Government forces and Tuareg rebels – just one of several security, political and humanitarian problems the West African nation has been dealing with this year. 

Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows the Council to use force in the face of a threat to peace or aggression, the 15-member body tasked the Mission with contributing to the rebuilding of the Malian Defence and Security Forces, as well as supporting the Malian authorities in “recovering the areas in the north under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups and in reducing the threat posed by terrorist groups.”  By unanimous resolution, the Mission will also be responsible for supporting the Malian authorities in their primary responsibility to protect the population and to create a secure environment for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

The renewed clashes in the north, 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 uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians this year. Over 412,000 people have been forced to flee northern Mali, and an estimated five million people have been affected by the conflict.

The Council also urged the transitional authorities of Mali to finalize a transitional roadmap through broad-based and inclusive political dialogue, to fully restore constitutional order and national unity, including through the holding of peaceful, inclusive and credible elections by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible. It demanded that Malian rebel groups cut off all ties to terrorist organizations, and urged the transitional authorities to expeditiously put in place a credible framework for negotiations with all parties in the north who cut off such ties. 

UN military and police planners have worked closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, in consultation with Malian authorities, for many months in developing a framework for the new force. Addressing the meeting on behalf of the Chairman of ECOWAS, Youssoufou Bamba, the Permanent Representative of Côte d'Ivoire to the United Nations, said the commendable goals that this “timely” resolution seeks, will not be fully achieved without a strong and consequent mobilization and international support. “The African Union and ECOWAS require a logistical support package, funded by assessed contributions of the United Nations, which should be quickly endorsed by the Security Council,” he stated. 

In its resolution, the Council called on Member States and international organizations to provide financial support and contributions in kind to AFISMA to enable its deployment and implementation of its mandate. It also expressed its intention to consider the provision of a voluntary and a UN-funded logistics support package to AFISMA, and requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to further develop and refine options within 30 days in this regard.

It was previously announced that Mr. Ban intends to establish a full-time UN political presence in the Malian capital, Bamako, which will be responsible for interacting with key stakeholders and report to both the Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, and his Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi. The Council requested him to submit specific and detailed proposals on establishing this presence as soon as possible for further consideration.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

December 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ICTR Sentences Former Government Minister to 35 Years for Genocide, Incitement to Genocide, and Crime Against Humanity

A trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has sentenced a former government minister, Augustin Ngirabatware, to 35 years imprisonment for genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and rape as a crime against humanity.

According to an ICTR news release, Trial Chamber II found that Mr. Ngirabatware – then serving as Rwanda’s Minister of Planning – directly and publicly incited the killing of Tutsis at the Cyanika-Gisa roadblock in February 1994. It further found that Mr. Ngirabatware instigated and aided and abetted the attacks and killings of Tutsis in April 1994 in the Nyamyumba commune through his words and actions in distributing weapons at two roadblocks there. At least some of these weapons were used by the Hutu Interahamwe militia to kill Tutsis. 

The chamber also found Mr. Ngirabatware guilty of participating in a joint criminal enterprise, which was in existence by 7 April 1994, and whose members shared the common purpose of destroying, in whole or in part, the Tutsi ethnic group, and exterminating the Tutsi civilian population in the Nyamyumba commune. In addition, the chamber found Mr. Ngirabatware guilty for committing – through this joint criminal enterprise in the extended form – the repeated rapes of a Tutsi woman.

Mr. Ngirabatware was arrested in September 2007 in Germany, and transferred to the court in October 2009. His trial opened in September 2009. 

Based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, the ICTR was set up after the Rwandan genocide, when at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during three months of bloodletting that followed the deaths of then Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, when their plane was brought down over the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on 6 April 1994.

In a statement issued after the verdict, the ICTR’s Chief Prosecutor, Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow, said that the delivery of today’s judgement in this case marks a historic occasion and important mile stone in the work of the tribunal. “For today the Tribunal has completed the trial phase of its mandate,” he said. “Established by the UN Security Council by resolution 955 of 1994 with the mandate to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda in 1994, the ICTR has over the past eighteen years of its operations indicted 93 persons for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

He noted that of those indicted, 83 have been arrested with 75 of them prosecuted to judgement; 65 of those tried were found guilty and convicted, nine of them on their guilty pleas. Ten of the accused have been acquitted, while three died after indictment. The cases of ten of the accused were referred to national jurisdictions for trial, including six of the remaining nine fugitives, while two indictments were withdrawn. “It has taken considerable effort, dedication and diligence by several parties for this outcome, amongst them the governments and law enforcement authorities of some 21 countries which have cooperated in ensuring the arrest and transfer of s to the tribunal for trial; over three thousand witnesses from several countries who have despite many challenges, testified in order to assist the tribunal arrive at the truth and render justice,” Justice Jallow said.

The ICTR is expected to conclude its work by the end of 2014.  The UN Security Council set up the so-called International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in December 2010 and mandated it to take over and finish the remaining tasks of the ICTR – and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – when they are closed after their mandates expire. The ICTR branch of the Residual Mechanism began its functions on 1 July.

The Chief Prosecutor said that “some important” work still remains to be done at the ICTR – mainly in the management of the remaining appeal cases as well as management of legacy and closure related issues. “We are confident that these tasks too can be completed before the end of 2014 as stipulated by the UN Security Council,” he said. “The conclusion of the work of this phase of the ICTR or its final closure will not affect the tracking of the remaining fugitives whose cases have now been transferred to the Residual Mechanism.” He added, “The search for these fugitives will continue and will not cease and until they are found and until they are brought to account before the Mechanism or before an appropriate national jurisdiction for trial.”

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

December 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

More Violations of Human Rights Law in Syria

A United Nations independent panel investigating human rights violations in Syria has released a new update on the situation, noting that violations continue unabated and reiterating the need for a political solution to the conflict.  “The war of attrition that is being fought in Syria has brought immeasurable destruction and human suffering to the civilian population. As the conflict drags on, the parties have become ever more violent and unpredictable, which has led to their conduct increasingly being in breach of international law,” the Commission of Inquiry on Syria stated in its latest update, covering the period between 28 September to 16 December.  

“The sole way to bring about an immediate cessation of the violence is through a negotiated political settlement which meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” the Commission added, noting that it strongly supports the Joint Special Representative of the UN and League of Arab States for the crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in his efforts to bring the parties towards such a settlement.  

The Commission – which comprises Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Karen AbuZayd, Carla del Ponte, and Vitit Muntarbhorn – has been mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.   

The conflict, now in its 22nd month, has spawned more than 500,000 refugees, while an estimated four million people inside the country need urgent humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country.  

The Commission has also been tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and its mandate was recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.” Its latest update is based on interviews with some 100 witnesses and victims, with the Commissioners and their staff having interviewed a total of just under 1,200 people since they began their work in August 2011.  The new 10-page update paints a bleak picture of the conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition move deeper into urban areas.  

“Violence has increased dramatically in and around major cities, in particular Damascus and Aleppo, where anti-Government fighters have advanced to neighbourhoods close to the cities’ centres,” the Commission states in the update. “Anti-Government armed groups were also reported in governorates such as al-Raqqah and al-Hasakah where they have clashed with army units, provoking shelling and artillery attacks.”    

In addition, it notes that mounting tensions have led to armed clashes between different armed groups along a sectarian divide – particularly involving Sunni and Shia communities, as well as the Alawaite minority – with such incidents taking place in mixed communities or where armed groups had attempted to take hold of areas predominantly inhabited by pro-Government minority communities.   

“The risk of the Syrian conflict devolving from peaceful protests seeking political reform to a confrontation between ethnic and religious groups has been ever present,” the Commission stated. “As battles between Government forces and anti-Government armed groups approach the end of their second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature.”   

Furthermore, the country’s other minority groups – such as the Armenians, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Kurds and Turkmen – have been drawn into the conflict. “Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides,” according to the update.   However, the sectarian lines fall most sharply between Syria’s Alawite community, from which most of the Government’s senior political and military figures hail, and the country’s majority Sunni community who are broadly, but not uniformly, in support of the anti-Government armed groups.    

The update observes that most of the foreign fighters filtering into Syria to join the anti-Government armed groups – or to fight independently alongside them – are Sunnis hailing from countries in the Middle East and North Africa, adding that the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict provides one motivation for other actors to take part.  The update notes that the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah has confirmed that its members are in Syria fighting on behalf of the Government, and there have also been claims, still under investigation, of Iraqi Shias coming to fight in Syria. Iran confirmed on 14 September that members of its Revolutionary Guards are in Syria providing “intellectual and advisory support,” the Commissioners added.    

In addition to highlighting the violence which has resulted in many thousands of dead and wounded, arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria, the Commission’s update also describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities.  The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the Human Rights Council in March next year.  

Also today, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, met with that country’s Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and discussed a range of issues – including the impact of recent developments in Syria on its Lebanese neighbor.  “We discussed the issue of displaced Syrians, and the significant rise in the numbers of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who have fled to Lebanon during the past week. We agreed that two things have to be highlighted: the very difficult circumstances that forced these people to leave their homes, and the humanitarian obligation to assist them until they are able to return,” the UN envoy said in a statement after the meeting.  

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 155,00 displaced Syrians currently seeking refuge in Lebanon, and their humanitarian needs are expected to increase with the onset of winter in the region.  “We understand that this represents a very big burden for Lebanon, and one which is likely to grow before those displaced are able to return home,” Mr. Plumbly said, adding that the UN humanitarian agencies concerned are working in the “closest possible fashion” with the Lebanese Government to help it and the displaced people and the communities receiving them.   “We are standing and will stand shoulder to shoulder with Lebanon in this,” the envoy added. “I reiterated to the Prime Minister the support of the United Nations for the response plan that the Government has prepared, and for the arrangements put in place in it.”   

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

December 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Senegal Adopts Legislation to Try Hissene Habre for War Crimes

After more than a decade of effort, the Senegal National Assembly adopted legislation yesterday that will create Extraordinary Chambers within the Senegalese court system to try the former president of Chad, Mr. Hissene Habre, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during his rule from 1982-1990.

The decision follows a series of international events, including the July 2012 judgment by the International Court of Justice (disussed in this earlier post) that ordered Senegal to prosecute Habre without delay or extradite him to Belgium for trial.  The legislative action also follows an agreement with the international community to fund the legal proceedings in the amount of 7.4 million euros. 

The new Extraordinary Chambers will handle investigations, trials, and appeals. The Chambers will prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad between June 7, 1982, and December 1, 1990. The trial chamber and the appeals chamber will each consist of two Senegalese judges and one non-Senegalese judge from an African Union member country, who will preside over the proceedings.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Extraordinary Chambers Statute provides for the participation of victims at all stages of the proceedings as civil parties, represented by counsel, and says that the victims may also be awarded reparations. The chambers’ budget allows for the recording of all proceedings as well as the establishment of an extensive outreach program so that the trial can have a positive and educational impact in Chad and elsewhere.



December 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Seeking a New Director General for the WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is accepting nominations under December 31 for its new Director General.  The new DG will succeed Pascal Lamy, whose term expires in August 2013. 

Yesterday, Costa Rica nominated its Foreign Trade Minister Anabel Gonzalez.  If chosen, she will be the first female DG of the WTO.


December 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

UN Security Council Condemns Ongoing Attacks by Lord's Resistance Army

United Nations Security Council LogoThe United Nations Security Council today strongly condemned the ongoing attacks and atrocities carried out by the armed group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and urged that the United Nations regional strategy designed to tackle the threat be carried out as soon as possible. “The Council demands an immediate end to all attacks by the LRA, particularly those on civilians, urges LRA leaders to release all those abducted, and insists that all LRA elements put an end to such practices, and disarm and demobilise,” the 15-member body said a presidential statement.

The regional strategy, which was endorsed by the Council in June, focuses on five key strategic objectives to address the threat posed by the LRA – the Ugandan rebel group notorious for carrying out massacres in villages, mutilating its victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers, while girls are often forced into sexual slavery.

The Council has urged swift implementation of the strategy’s objectives. These include support for the full operationalization and implementation of the African Union (AU) regional cooperation initiative against the LRA; enhancing efforts to promote the protection of civilians; and expanding current disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities to cover all LRA-affected areas.

The other objectives are to promote a coordinated humanitarian and child protection response in these areas, and to support LRA-affected governments in the fields of peacebuilding, human rights, rule of law and development, to enable them to establish State authority across their territories.

In its presidential statement today, the Council urged the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), the UN political and peacekeeping missions in the region and other relevant UN presences to coordinate their efforts in support of the implementation of the strategy, and called on the international community to provide assistance “as possible” to advance these goals.  Furthermore, the Secretary-General was requested to present to the Council a prioritised and sequenced implementation plan to support the strategy no later than 28 February 2013, based on a clear division of labour between all parts of the international system as well as UN organizations.  

Yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNOCA, Abou Moussa, told the Council that the UN and the AU will seek increased funding early next year for the strategy  “The most urgent step revolves around the need to promptly finalize the LRA programmatic document and mobilize sufficient resources for its full implementation,” he said. He added that once the programmatic document is finalized, his office, in partnership with the office of the AU Special Envoy on the LRA, Francisco Madeira, plans to organize a resource mobilization forum early next year with the aim of raising funds for the most critical areas of the strategy. 

The LRA was formed in the 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels. They then exported their activities to Uganda’s neighbours, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The Council welcomed the “significant” increase in individuals escaping or defecting from the LRA over recent months, and strongly supported ongoing efforts to promote defections through the distribution of leaflets, targeted radio broadcasts, and the establishment of safe reporting sites.  In addition, it called for the remaining LRA fighters to leave the group’s ranks and participate in a disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration process.

(UN Press Release)

December 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Calls to End the Death Penalty in Iraq

The United Nations human rights chief today called on Iraq to move towards abolishing the death penalty, saying – in response to the latest periodic report on Iraq’s human rights record – that the rate of executions in the country this year “cannot be justified.”

“I would like to stress that, under international law, the death penalty is permitted in very limited circumstances, including after trial and appeal proceedings that scrupulously respect all the principles of due process,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her comments on the Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January to June 2012, released today. “The number of executions so far in 2012, and the manner in which they have been carried out in large batches, is extremely dangerous, cannot be justified, and risks seriously undermining the partial and tentative progress on rule of law in Iraq outlined in this report,” she added, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

Iraq, which retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes, executed 70 people in the first six months of this year, compared to 67 for the whole of 2011, and 18 in 2010, according to the 46-page report, produced by UNAMI – a UN political mission established by the UN Security Council in 2003 at the invitation of the Government of Iraq – in cooperation with OHCHR.

“I encourage the Iraqi Government to declare a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty in the near future,” Ms. Pillay said. The human rights chief also called on the Iraqi authorities to address other “serious human rights violations” highlighted in the report, which, as with earlier reports, reflects information gathered by UNAMI from the mission’s on-site monitoring.

Although the report noted the Iraqi Government had taken a “number of positive steps to address certain human rights concerns,” it said respect for human rights in the country “remains fragile as the country continues its transition from years of conflict and violence to peace and democracy.” The study highlighted that many ordinary Iraqi women, children, disabled people and members of ethnic and religious groups continue to face varying degrees of discrimination in the full enjoyment of their basic rights, according to the joint news release.

Many Iraqis also still have only limited access to basic services, including healthcare, education, and employment, the release said, citing the report. “Respect for human rights is at the basis of any democracy, and strong action needs to be taken by the Iraqi authorities to ensure that each and every person in this country can fully enjoy his or her fundamental rights – including social and economic rights,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler.

According to the report, violence remains of great concern in Iraq, with the number of civilians killed having slightly increased compared to the same six-month period in 2011. The report found that 1,346 civilians were killed and 3,660 others wounded during the first six months of 2012. It also noted that, despite a decline in the overall number of incidents, the attacks were often more deadly, with a few attacks claiming scores of victims.

Iraqi Government initiatives welcomed in the report included “key legislative and institutional reforms,” according to the joint news release. It named them as the appointment of the Commissioners to serve on Iraq’s first Independent High Commission for Human Rights, the ratification by Iraq of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the launch of a reorganization and rehabilitation programme for detention centres and prisons under the authority of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

December 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Madagascar Must Combat Poverty to Eradicate Slavery

A United Nations independent expert today called on the Government of Madagascar to take “urgent measures” in its fight against poverty, adding that poverty was the driving factor in the island nation’s slavery epidemic. “Human rights cannot thrive in an environment of extreme poverty,” the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, stated in a news release at the end of her first-ever visit to the African country. 

During her trip – which included stops in the towns of Antsirabe, Ambositra, Fianaransoa, Ihosy, Sakaraha, and the capital, Antananarivo – Ms. Shahinian noted that she was informed that over 70 per cent of the population in Madagascar is poor and over 50 per cent is extremely poor. Moreover, she detailed the lingering effects of Madagascar’s caste system and the deeply rooted discrimination resulting from it, which continues to marginalize the most vulnerable people in society, particularly those descended from slaves.  

“Madagascar’s experience has shown the extent to which men, women, and children suffering from extreme poverty end up living in conditions of contemporary forms of slavery such as domestic servitude, child slavery in mines and quarries, bonded labour, and servile marriages,” Ms. Shahinian said.  She noted that many parents across Madagascar are “desperately poor” and are often faced with few alternatives regarding employment and where to send their children to school. As a result, the children, who are frequently undernourished and suffer from chronic hunger, are doled out across the countryside as domestic workers in order to pay off rising debts or simply to help feed the family. In addition, many girls and boys are forced to marry against their will and at ages as young as 10 years old, despite laws to the contrary. 

The UN expert also pointed out that many children were illegally working in Madagascar’s artisanal mining and quarrying sector, often living in remote areas plagued by violence and lawlessness where they were exposed to rape, prostitution and potentially fatal health hazards. Nevertheless, Ms. Shahinian emphasized that the country’s authorities already had proper legislation on its books to counter the diffuse problem of slavery but that they were not being implement or monitored prompting impunity and corruption. 

“The Government, as well as civil society and international organizations cannot continue to ignore this issue,” she stated. “I urge the government to develop urgent measures and fully resourced programmes with local authorities and work closely with civil society and international organizations in order to secure funding and combat contemporary forms of slavery.” 

UN independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Ms. Shahinian, are appointed by the Geneva-based 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.

(UN Press Release)

December 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Civil Society, Freedom of Expression, and the Future of the Internet

The credibility of the Internet depends on how much civil society – the broad label given to worldwide activism outside government – is able to take part in its evolution, a United Nations independent expert said today.  “Civil society participation is essential to ensure legitimacy of global discussions on the future of (the) Internet,” the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, said in comments on a recent global telecommunications conference that aimed to update a world treaty containing general principles for assuring the free flow of information worldwide.  “The only consensus reached so far on this matter is that the future of the Internet has to be determined in a multi-stakeholder dialogue, where no positions can be imposed unilaterally,” he added, according to a news release from the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Click here to read a copy of the news release.

The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) convened the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in early December, as part of a wider mandate that sees it allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to international telecommunications technologies to underserved communities worldwide. Attended by more than 160 countries, the conference aimed to update ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations, which serve as a binding global treaty designed to make global interconnection easier, more efficient and more available to the public in a way that is useful.

In his comments, the Special Rapporteur noted that the Internet “vastly expands the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of expression, as well as other rights.” As such, he said, any future focus on Internet governance by the Conference “must ensure the meaningful participation of multiple stakeholders, including representatives of other international organizations, human rights entities, private sector representatives, including Internet providers and non-governmental organizations,” the OHCHR release said.

“Global attention is required to ensure that no international or national regulations on the Internet pave the way for hampering freedom of opinion and expression through the Internet,” said Mr. La Rue. “Unfortunately, legitimate expression on the Internet is already criminalized in various countries today,” he added, saying he had documented this in his 2011 report for the UN General Assembly on Internet-linked freedom-of-expression rights, and also in a 2011 report on Internet trends and challenges related to free-speech. “International efforts must reverse this trend, not reinforce it,” he added of the information clampdowns.

According to the Special Rapporteur, ensuring freedom of expression and access to information on the Internet is central for the promotion and protection of human rights, and the strengthening of democracy across the globe today. “Over the last two decades, the Internet has greatly contributed to expanding access to information on serious human rights violations, giving voice to millions who would be silent and invisible without the access to this powerful tool,” he said, adding that “discussion on any form of regulation or governance of this crucial tool must be firmly grounded in human rights standards.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs such as Mr. La Rue, are appointed by the Geneva-based 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)

December 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

126 Rapes and 2 Murders in the the Democratic Republic of Congo

Preliminary findings by United Nations investigators have documented at least 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians – one a minor – during a probe into human rights violations in a part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that recently experienced a new eruption of violent clashes and civilian displacements, a UN spokesperson said today.

A parallel investigation by the armed forces of DRC, known by the French acronym FARDC, has led to the arrest of nine FARDC soldiers, two in connection with the rapes, and seven in connection with lootings, the spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

The probes are focused on allegations of violations committed between 20 and 30 November in and around Minova, a town close to the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern DRC, which fighters from the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group occupied on 19 November.

According to media reports, there have been allegations that FARDC soldiers raped dozens of women in Minova during the army’s retreat from Goma.

The UN investigators are with the UN Joint Human Rights Office (JHRO), a collaboration between the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mr. Nesirky said two JHRO teams visited the Minova area this month and interviewed more than 200 people, though investigations are ongoing. “The UN Mission is supporting the (DRC) military justice procedure in conducting thorough investigations into these allegations to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and held accountable,” he said.

Mr. Nesirky noted that MONUSCO officials met today with DRC’s Vice Prime Minister Mutombo Bakafwa Nsenda, who also serves as Minister of Defence, to share initial findings. He added that MONUSCO is working with the DRC Government to identify the FARDC units in which the arrested soldiers served. According to Mr. Nesirky, identifying the units will allow MONUSCO to review the exact nature of any support in accordance with the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, which contains principles to be followed on the part of any UN entity when supporting non-UN security entities.

The investigations come amid continuing tensions in the region even though the M23 – made up of former national army troops who mutinied in April and named after a 23 March 2009 peace agreement that they reportedly say has not been implemented – ended their occupation of Goma after 11 days and are now in political talks with the DRC Government in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Media reports have said the M23 also face allegations of killing and raping civilians and looting towns during the clashes that took place last month. The reports also highlight that several other armed groups in the area have been involved in the wider regional violence.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 400 women and girls were sexually assaulted amid the regional fighting and advance on Goma. “Women and girls in the displacement camps are living in constant fear of being attacked or sexually molested,” a UNICEF spokesperson, Marixie Mercado, said in an interview with UN Radio.

Separately, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today issued an alert about the presence of armed groups in and around a camp west of Goma hosting up to 15,000 of the estimated 177,000 civilians driven from their homes amid the M23 advance. The armed groups were “fuelling worries” among the inhabitants of the Mugunga III camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), said a UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, who added that the agency saw their presence as a “serious concern.”

Already this month, armed men have staged at least three attacks, Mr. Edwards said. In one, they raped several women and looted supplies in the camp, while in another, three people were shot and wounded when gunmen looted several homes around Mugunga III and demanded goods or money.  A third attack left two people inside the camp injured by gunfire after four armed men “apparently looking for aid items, including plastic sheeting” entered, according to Mr. Edwards.

While Mugunga III is one of 31 established IDP sites throughout North Kivu province, Mr. Edwards told the UN News Centre that the precarious regional security situation meant that UNHCR had access to “very few.”

“Civilians must be kept out of harm’s way and any deployment of armed men in densely populated areas should be avoided,” he said at the briefing in Geneva, adding that the presence of armed men at any refuge was a “threat to the civilian character of the camps,” and something UNCHR had “repeatedly urged all sides to respect.”

“It exposes IDPs to risks of violence in violation of their fundamental rights, including the right to physical safety and integrity,” Mr. Edwards noted. He added that fighting farther north in the eastern DRC has caused about 4,000 people to flee into South Sudan, where – before the latest influx – there were 18,408 DRC refugees.

“Most of the new arrivals are women with small infants and separated or unaccompanied children,” he said. “UNHCR is prioritizing identification of the unaccompanied children to ensure that those most at risk, particularly adolescent boys, are protected.”

(UN Press Release)

December 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)