Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Moratorium on Robots That Kill: Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARS)

A pause in progress to “a world where machines are given the power to kill humans,” was urged today by a United Nations independent human rights expert who called for a global moratorium on the development and deployment of lethal autonomous robots (LARs). LARs differ from armed drones and other remotely controlled weapons systems because they have the ability to decide when to attack a target, Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, stressed.

“While drones still have a ‘human in the loop’ who takes the decision to use lethal force, LARs have on-board computers that decide who should be targeted,” Mr. Heyns said as he presented his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council. “War without reflection is mechanical slaughter,” he added. “In the same way that the taking of any human life deserves as a minimum some deliberation, a decision to allow machines to be deployed to kill human beings deserves a collective pause worldwide.”

While much of their development is shrouded in secrecy, robots with full lethal autonomy have not yet been deployed, according to Mr. Heyns’ report.  However, robotic systems with various degrees of autonomy and attack capability are currently in use.  He cites, for example, Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarized zone between the two countries of the Korean peninsula, which detect targets through infrared sensors. They are currently operated by humans but have an “automatic mode.”

The United States’ Navy’s Phalanx gun system, he adds, automatically detects, tracks and engages threats such as anti-ship missiles and aircraft.  Israel’s Harpy system is designed to detect and destroy radar emitters.  In addition, the British Taranis drone prototype can search, identify and locate enemies, but can only engage a target when authorized by mission command. He says that further development of such systems and their decision-making capability may make it easier for States to go to war; and raises the question whether they can be programmed to comply with the requirements of international humanitarian law, “especially the distinction between combatant and civilians and collateral damage.” 

“Beyond this, their deployment may be unacceptable because no adequate system of legal accountability can be devised for the actions of machines,” he stated as part of his analysis of potential violations of the rights to life and human dignity, should the use of LARs materialize. 

Mr. Heyns urged the Human Rights Council to call on all States “to declare and implement national moratoria on the production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use of LARs, until a framework on the future of LARs has been established.” He invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene or to work with other UN bodies to convene a High Level Panel on LARs to articulate this framework. 

The Special Rapporteur stressed that engaging with the risks posed by LARs right now, before further development, would provides an opportunity for reflection that would contrast to other revolutions in military affairs, where serious consideration mostly began after the emergence of new methods of war.  “The current moment may be the best we will have to address these concerns,” he said.

(UN press release)

May 30, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his deep appreciation for dedication and efforts of Francisco Dall'Anese, who has announced that he will step down as the head of the United Nations-backed commission charged with dismantling illegal armed groups and tackling impunity in Guatemala. Mr. Dall'Anese, a former Attorney-General of Costa Rica, has stated his intention to step down as Commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) by 4 September, at the end of his current appointment. In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban lauded Mr. Dall'Anese’s “steadfast commitment to the fight against impunity,” and welcomed the strides made by Guatemalan justice institutions during this period and, in particular, the strengthening of national prosecutorial activities.  

The UN and the Guatemalan Government set up CICIG in 2006 as an independent body to support the public prosecutors’ office, the national civilian police and other institutions to investigate a limited number of sensitive and difficult cases regarding illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations and also dismantle them. Based in Guatemala City, since it began operations in early 2008, CICIG seeks to bolster the rule of law and is permitted by its mandate to conduct independent investigations and help authorities bring representative cases to trial in national courts.

The UN Secretariat has started a search for a new Commissioner with the goal of consolidating CICIG’s work, according to today’s statement. “To make the best of the period ahead, the Secretary-General calls on national authorities and institutions to redouble efforts in the fight against impunity. The United Nations thanks Member States for their continued strong support of CICIG.”

(UN Press Release)

May 30, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ITLOS Finds No Jurisdiction in M/V LOUISA Case

Earlier this week, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) announced its judgment in the M/V LOUISA Case (St. Vincent and the Grenadines v. Kingdom of Spain). The Tribunal found by 19 votes to 2 that it did not have jurisdiction to entertain the application by St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The case involved a complaint by St. Vincent and the Grenadines that Spain improperly detained, boarded and searched the M/V LOUISA, (which was flying the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines), while the vessel was engaged in exploratory surveys of the sea floor.  Spain claimed its actions were taken pursuant to a criminal investigation.  The Tribunal held that it lacked jurisdiction because there was no dispute between the parties as to the application and interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, largely because the M/V LOUISA was detained and boarded while in a Spanish port pursuant to a criminal investigation under Spanish law.  For more information regarding the Tribunal's judgment, see the ITLOS Press Release.


May 30, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

International Day of UN Peacekeepers

This week, we especially honor those who serve as United Nations Peacekeepers as we commemorate the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on May 29.  Here is statement from the U.S State Department:

"On International Day of UN Peacekeepers, the United States honors the brave men and women who serve in harm’s way to protect the world’s most vulnerable. Last year, 112 peacekeepers lost their lives in pursuit of making the world safer and more secure.  Today, we commemorate their sacrifice, as well as that of their families and communities across the globe.
United Nations military, police, and civilian peacekeepers courageously serve when the global community calls. Last year, we celebrated the return of UN troops after the end of a successful mission in Timor-Leste, and this year we are again calling upon them to bring stability to Mali. We depend on peacekeepers to stabilize, secure, and help rebuild war-torn societies, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Haiti, and we are grateful for their valor and professionalism."

May 30, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Same-Sex Marriage in France

Same-sex marriage is now legal in France.  Here's a three-minute video of the first same-sex civil wedding ceremony in France.


h/t rw


May 30, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can a Woman Become President of Iran?

A group of United Nations experts today warned that measures preventing women and other citizens from running for presidential office in Iran constitute a serious violation of rights guaranteed by international law. 

Last week, Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member body of theologians and jurists which vets presidential candidates, approved only eight individuals out of the 686 people registered for the 14 June election. The 30 female candidates that applied were disqualified, as well as other key political figures, raising concerns about the fairness and transparency of the vetting procedures. 

“This mass disqualification including that of women wishing to stand in the presidential elections is discriminatory and violates fundamental right to political participation, and runs contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.  “Any restrictions on this right must be based on objective and reasonable criteria without distinction of any kind, including race, gender, religion, and political or other opinion,” the expert said in a news release from the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

Several candidates were reportedly excluded on the basis of their affiliation with the 2009 post-election protests and their exercise of fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

The head of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women, Kamala Chandrakirana, stressed that excluding women from eligibility to presidential office “will exacerbate their already existing severe underrepresentation in public, political and professional life.”

Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo noted that the State must ensure women’s participation in public affairs, including the political sphere, through special measures that help eradicate discrimination and violence against women.

The experts also urged the Government to lift restrictions to freedom of expression and association. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue, called for the release of detained journalists, stressing that stifling news coverage will affect the election’s credibility.

“Threats to journalists and the constriction of freedom of expression in different media during electoral times seriously undermine the inclusiveness and fairness of the electoral process,” Mr. La Rue said, recalling that at least 40 journalists remain in prison across the country. “The Government should ensure the release of all journalists currently detained in prison and should allow media activists to report freely.”  He also expressed concern over reports that the Internet has been virtually shut down, mobile texting has sporadically been blocked, and reformist or opposition websites are being censored. 

The Special Rapporteur on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, called again on the Iranian authorities to immediately release the main two opposition leaders, Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who have been under house arrest since February 2011, along with hundreds of other prisoners of conscience who remain in prison for peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly.

“Freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association are essential rights for the effective exercise of political participation and must be fully protected,” the experts concluded.

(adapted from a UN press release)

May 29, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

20th Anniversary of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Members of the Security Council on Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the United Nations tribunal set up in the wake of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, recognizing the Hague-based body's commitment to the fight against impunity for perpetrators of war crimes. In a statement issued to the press, the Council recalled its resolution 827 of 25 May 1993, by which it unanimously established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  "The members of the Security Council also note this year marks [the Tribunal's] twentieth anniversary," the statement says, adding that they recognize the contribution of the ICTY in the fight against impunity for "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community."

Council members also welcome the forthcoming start on 1 July of operations of the branch of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals that is located in The Hague.
Through the statement, the Council members emphasize that the establishment of the Residual Mechanism was essential to ensure that the closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the ICTY "does not leave the door open to impunity for the remaining fugitives and for those whose appeals have not been completed." They also reaffirm their strong commitment to the fight against impunity.

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

Set up by the Council in December 2010, the Residual Mechanism is mandated to take over and finish the remaining tasks of both tribunals once their mandates expire. The Council has urged the two tribunals to conclude their work by the end of 2014.

(UN press release)

May 29, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Member States to join an international treaty aimed at eliminating enforced disappearances and stop impunity for this scourge.  “We must clarify the cases of disappeared persons, provide reparations to victims and bring perpetrators to justice,” Mr. Ban said last night at the opening of a new photo exhibit at United Nations Headquarters in New York entitled “Absences.” The exhibit pays tribute to dozens of people who disappeared as a result of States suppressing legitimate demands concerning issues such as democracy, freedom of expression or freedom of religion. The victims include the “desaparecidos” of the military government that ruled Argentina in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. 

Among those attending the launch were the mothers and grandmothers of some of the desaparecidos featured in the exhibit. Mr. Ban urged Member States to answer the call of these relatives and ratify the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and “act on its provisions.” The Convention, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and entered into force four years later, has the support of 38 countries.  Enforced disappearance is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State.

Adding a personal note to the launch, Mr. Ban recalled his visit two years ago to the Space for Memory and for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I was deeply moved to see the chambers where thousands of people were arrested, tortured and disappeared,” he told the audience. “I said that all societies experiencing such tragedies must embrace truth and restore historical memory.” Turning to the exhibit, he said that the photographs “bring us closer to the past so that we can draw lessons for the present and prevent these crimes in the future.” 

Mr. Ban thanked those who made the exhibit possible and used the launch as an opportunity to renew his commitment to answer the call of the mothers and grandmothers of Argentina and others to protect human rights.

(UN press release)

May 29, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Migration Policy in Europe

Migration policy in the European Union (EU) must incorporate a human rights approach instead of solely focusing on security concerns, a United Nations independent expert today stressed. “Within EU institutional and policy structures, migration and border control have been increasingly integrated into security frameworks that emphasize policing, defence and criminality over a rights-based approach,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants François, Crépeau, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “I regret that within the EU policy context, irregular migration remains largely viewed as a security concern that must be stopped,” Mr. Crépeau said. “This is fundamentally at odds with a human rights approach, concerning the conceptualization of migrants as individuals and equal holders of human rights.’’

Mr. Crépeau undertook a one-year study to examine the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing in particular on the management of the external borders of the EU in key transit countries – namely Turkey and Tunisia – as well as two of the main entry points, Greece and Italy. The Special Rapporteur stressed that, “the systematic detention of irregular migrants has come to be viewed as a legitimate tool in the context of EU migration management, despite the lack of any evidence that detention serves as a deterrent.” He called on EU authorities to address factors that address irregular immigration in Europe, such as the demand for a seasonal, low-skilled, easily exploitable workforce, and instead open up more regular immigration channels, including for low-skilled workers, that more accurately reflect the labour needs of the EU.

In his report to the Council, Mr. Crépeau also said there has been an ‘externalization’ of border control, through which countries of departure or transit bear all the responsibility for preventing irregular migration, and underlined that the EU must share this responsibility among its Member States.

Mr. Crépeau is among a host of Special Rapporteurs presenting their annual thematic reports during dialogues with the Human Rights Council. That body’s 23rd session opened yesterday and will run through June 14th. Mr. Crépeau will present his report to different EU institutions in Brussels, including a public launch at the European Parliament on Thursday and Friday.

(UN press release)

May 29, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

WTO DSB Establishes Panel to Examine China's AD Duties on Steel from Japan

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) has announced the establishment of a dispute resolution panel at the request of Japan to examine certain antidumping duties imposed by China on High Performance Stainless Steel Seamless Tubes from Japan.  Several other states have reserved their right to participate as third parties.  The matter has been assigned case number DS454.

For more information, see the WTO website.


May 28, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 27, 2013

20th Anniversary of the ICTY

On Friday, May 24, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the formation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugosloavia (ICTY).   The UNSC created the ICTY by way of UNSC Resolution 827 on May 25, 1993 to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia beginning in 1991.  During its tenure, the ICTY has indicated 191 persons.  For more information regarding the achievements of the ICTY, go to the ICTY website.

The ICTY's charter will expire in 2014.  All residual work will be taken over by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribuanls (MICT), which is also assuming responsibility for the remaining work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.


May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Amnesty International Releases World Report on Human Rights

Amnesty IntlAmnesty International recently released its 2103 Report on the State of the World's Human Rights.  The full text of the report can be found here.  The report includes analyses of the human rights situation in 159 different countries during 2012.  The report calls on states to reexamine the concept of sovereignty. It highlights the need for greater respect for the rights of indigeous peoples, especially their land rights.  It also discusses the impact of international flows of capital and people on human rights, especially with respect to the plight of migrant workers, refugees and stateless persons.  Finally, it applauds the greater transparency brought about by the digital age, but deplores states that imprison persons for excersing their freedom of expression.


May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Human Rights Expert Welcomes New US Policy on Drone Strikes

An independent United Nations human rights expert has welcomed what he said was a ground-breaking speech by President Barack Obama in which the United States leader laid out principles governing the use of counter-terrorism measures such as targeted killings.

Mr. Obama said last week that, as part of a realignment of US counter-terrorism policy, he would curtail the use of drones, recommit to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and seek new limits on his own war power. The new policy guidance imposes tougher standards for when drone strikes can be authorized, limiting them to targets that pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, according to media reports. 

“This extremely important speech breaks new ground in a number of key respects,” the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, said in a news release.  “It affirms for the first time this Administration’s commitment to seek an end to its armed conflict with Al-Qaida as soon as possible; it reminds the world that not every terrorist threat or terrorist attack can be equated with a situation of continuing armed conflict; and it sets out more clearly and more authoritatively than ever before the Administration’s legal justifications for targeted killing, and the constraints that it operates under,” he said.  The speech also clarifies, and proposes improvements to, the procedures for independent oversight; and it sets out the steps the President is now resolved to take in order to close Guantánamo Bay, he added.

Mr. Emmerson said that the publication of the procedural guidelines for the use of force in counter-terrorism operations is “a significant step towards increased transparency and accountability. It also disposes of a number of myths, including the suggestion that the US is entitled to regard all military-aged males as combatants, and therefore as legitimate targets.”  He added that he will be engaging with senior US officials in Washington D.C. over the coming days and weeks in an effort “to put some flesh on the bones of the announcements made.” 

The expert said that Mr. Obama’s acknowledgement that the time has come to tackle not only the manifestations of terrorism but also its social, economic and political causes around the world “signals a shift in rhetoric and a move in policy emphasis towards promoting a strategy of sustainable and ethical counter-terrorism.” 

Independent experts, or 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. They work in an unpaid capacity.

(adapted from a UN press release)

May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Concern After Guatemala Constitutional Court Overturns Genocide Case Against Former President Ríos Montt

The Constitutional Court of Guatemala has overturned the 80 year prison sentence against former military leader, Efrain Ríos Montt.  He had been the first former president of any country to be convicted of genocide by its own national court.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human RIghts was among those expressing concern at this development. “Amid continued legal uncertainty about what the ruling of the Constitutional Court annulling the verdict on the Ríos Montt case means in practice, we are concerned about the right of victims in Guatemala to obtain remedies,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva. “The victims have waited three decades for justice for atrocities committed against the Ixil population, and it is unfortunate that a verdict of such importance has been annulled on procedural grounds,” Mr. Rupert continued. He added that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recalls “States' obligations to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity” and that it hopes “this extremely important trial will be decided on its merits.” 

Mr. Ríos Montt was sentenced on 10 May to 80 years for his leading role in the killing of 1,771 people during his time in office between 1982 and 1983, as well as for the forced displacement, starvation, torture, and systematic rape and sexual assault that were deliberately inflicted on Guatemala’s Mayan Ixil communities.

A three-judge panel concluded that Mr. Ríos Montt had ordered the plans that led to the genocide, had full knowledge of the atrocities committed, and did nothing to stop them despite having the power to do so. In all, some 200,000 people – over 80 per cent of them of indigenous Mayan origin – were killed during the 36-year-long civil war, but the period of Ríos Montt’s rule is considered one of the bloodiest in the conflict.

The conviction was welcomed by UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay, who hailed Guatemala for making history by becoming the first country in the world to convict a former head of State for genocide in its own national court.

But the case against Mr. Ríos Montt was overturned on May 20, 2013, allowing the 86-year-old Mr. Ríos Montt to return to house arrest, according to media reports.

(mew) (adapted from a UN press release)

May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Draft Principles to Eliminate Discrimination Based on Work and Descent

More than 260 million people across the world are still victims of human rights abuses due to caste-based discrimination, United Nations independent experts have warned, urging South Asian countries to strengthen legislation to protect them. “Caste-based discrimination remains widespread and deeply rooted, its victims face structural discrimination, marginalization and systematic exclusion, and the level of impunity is very high,” the group of experts said. “This form of discrimination entails gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses – including brutal forms of violence.” 

People who are considered of low caste in South Asia are known as ‘Dalits’ or ‘untouchables.’ In many countries, they face marginalization, social and economic exclusion, segregation in housing, limited access to basic services including water and sanitation and employment, and work in conditions similar to slavery. The experts said that Dalit women and girls are particularly vulnerable and face multiple forms of discrimination and violence, including sexual abuse. Children are also at high risk of being sold and sexually exploited.

Two years ago, Nepal adopted the ‘Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Bill’, a landmark law that protects the rights of Dalits. More recently, the British Government decided in April that the Equality Act would cover caste discrimination to protect Dalits in diaspora communities.  While these are positive steps to eliminate caste-based discrimination, the experts expressed concern about a serious lack of implementation in countries where legislation already exists, and called for the effective application of laws, policies and programmes protecting those affected by this type of discrimination. 

“We urge other caste-affected States to adopt legislation to prevent caste-based discrimination and violence and punish perpetrators of such crimes, and call on world governments to endorse and implement the UN Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent,” the experts said.  “Political leadership, targeted action and adequate resources should be devoted to resolving the long-standing problems, discrimination and exclusion faced by Dalits and similarly affected communities in the world.”

The experts also expressed their hope that the post-2015 development agenda will include specific goals for the advancement of Dalits, stressing that caste-based discrimination is a major structural factor underlying poverty.  “Their specific needs require tailored action to lift them out of poverty and close the inequality gap between them and the rest of society,” they said. “No one should be stigmatized; no one should be considered ‘untouchable’.”   

Among the experts voicing their concerns include those dealing with minority issues; violence against women; contemporary forms of slavery; and racism. Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and work in an unpaid capacity. 

Click here to see the UN Draft Principles and Guidelines (included in the Annex the Report).

(mew) (adapted from a UN press release)

May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Protecting Indigenous Rights in Africa

A United Nations official has praised the positive steps to protect the rights of indigenous people in Africa, adding that the continent must continue making progress and avoid repeating mistakes made by other regions.

“Africa has been consolidating and strengthening the legal framework protecting indigenous people,” Senior Specialist on Indigenous Tribal Peoples’ Issues for the International Labour Organization (ILO), Albert Kwokwo Barume, said at a Headquarters press conference being held in connection with the 12th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “We have a large number of African countries that supported the UN Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples],” he continued, noting countries implementing domestic laws, like Congo has done. In addition, the Central African Republic has become the first African member country of the ILO to ratify the agency’s Convention 169, which is a legally binding treaty which deals specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, Mr. Barume said.

Adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007 after more than two decades of debate, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets out the individual and collective rights of those peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Mr. Barume also noted that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has been “playing a leading role on indigenous people’s issues in Africa.” He underlined that the Commission had particularly helped to conceptualize what being ‘indigenous’ means in Africa, something that has been controversial in some countries. “Today, that concept has a clear, well-defined, and non-controversial understanding,” he said.

Around 2,300 indigenous participants have gathered at UN Headquarters in New York to discuss culture, education and health during the 12th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This year, the two-week forum will particularly focus on youth, indigenous groups in Africa and the importance of strengthening ties with international financial institutions.

Mr. Barume said the current session on Africa is an opportunity for African countries to learn from good practices in other regions, as well as an opportunity for them to share their successful experiences with the world. “We have seen different attempts of trying to educate indigenous children, but indigenous people have the right to make the choices of the education they want to give their children because they have the right to self-determination,” he said. “In that sense, Africa must avoid making the same mistakes that other countries have made in the past.”

Also participating in the forum were the Legal Adviser to the President of the Republic of the Congo, Laurent Tengo and Simon William M’Viboudoulou, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Responding to a number of questions, including one on visits of UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights James Anaya to Africa, in particular to Namibia, Mr. M’Viboudoulou said that, when Mr. Anaya had visited the Republic of Congo, the country had been in the process of establishing its laws on indigenous peoples. The State’s openness to dialogue had helped to improve the situation of its indigenous population, including implementing the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. 

“We all know the problems facing the indigenous people of Namibia”, he said of that particular visit. However, it was important to consider that accepting Mr. Anaya’s visit – and engaging in dialogue on the issue – showed political will on the part of the Namibian Government.  He was confident that things would soon change for the San, one of that country’s indigenous groups.

Asked what was being done to educate mainstream populations about the rights of indigenous peoples, Mr. Tengo responded that there was a longstanding belief in many countries that indigenous people were part of the nation, and that there was no reason to take particular measures to protect them. The first challenge was to break away from that thinking.

The second challenge, he continued, was the state of underdevelopment that generated poverty and intolerance.  Indigenous peoples lived mostly in poverty, and changing that would require the political courage to take proactive measures. In addition, indigenous peoples themselves needed to “take their destiny in their hands” and defend their own rights, he said.

On the same question, Mr. Barume stressed the need to address historical injustices against African indigenous peoples, in particular with regard to the annexation of land. Acknowledging those injustices was the first step, he underscored, as “you cannot correct a mistake that you do not first recognize”. It was also critical to legally address those wrongdoings, and then to implement laws and educate the mainstream community.

(UN press release)

May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Papua New Guinea Says it Will Resume Death Penalty

Papua New Guinea announced that it will resume the death penalty more than half a century since it last carried out an execution.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that this move would represent “a major setback” for the country.

“The High Commissioner has written to the Prime Minister stating her concerns about the planned resumption of the death penalty, and is calling on the Government to maintain its moratorium and subsequently join the growing number of Member States that have abolished the practice altogether, including 11 States in the Pacific,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, during a press briefing in Geneva.

Papua New Guinea has maintained a long-standing de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1954, which was subsequently passed into law in 1970. 

“Resuming the death penalty again would be a major setback, especially after so many other States have subsequently abolished the death penalty or adopted moratoriums,” Mr. Colville said. “While recognizing the challenge presented by the recent alarming rise in violent crime in Papua New Guinea, including rape, torture and murder, the use of capital punishment has never been proved to be a more effective deterrent than other forms of punishment,” he added.

Executions Also on the Rise in Indonesia

In the same briefing, Mr. Colville also drew attention to the rise in executions in Indonesia, where four men have been executed since the country resumed the death penalty in March. “It is a very unfortunate development as Indonesia was close to establishing a moratorium on executions.” Indonesia had not carried out any executions since 2008. In January, Ms. Pillay urged the authorities not to carry out any further executions following the Government’s announcement that it would execute 10 convicted criminals.

UN General Assembly Resolutions

Since 2007, the General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. Today about 150 of the UN’s 193 Member States have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it.  

(mew) (adapted from a UN press release)

May 27, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

British House of Commons Votes for Same-Sex Marriage

Human Rights in the European Union

Coinu Photo Demuro PhotoGreetings from Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy), where students from the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law are presenting summaries of significant human rights cases decided by the Court of Justice of the European Union.  The Italian students are presenting these summaries for law students from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, who are attending classes this week in Cagliari.

The cases being discussed today include the decison of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Zambrano case, C-34/09 (8 Mar. 2011), which involved the question of whether non-EU citizens from Colombia should be granted Belgian (and European) citizenship because two children of the Colombian couple were born in Belgium.  The children had the right to Belgian citizenship but they could not exercise that if their parents would not be allowed to live with them.  The case prohibited Member States of the European Union from a refusing to grant residency to a foreign (non-EU) national whose dependent minor children have the right to live in Europe.  The foreign national also had a right to work in Europe because to deny him that right would deprive the EU citizen children of their rights to the status of an European Union citizen.

Another case being presented is the ECJ's decision in the Omega Case C-36/02, which involved restrictions in Germany on laser game facilities where players shoot at each other with laser guns. In other countries these games are acceptable (and even quite popular) but Germany viewed the games as violating human dignity by simulating homicide and trivializing violence.  Despite the rules that would otherwise permit and even require free trade, there is an exception where the trade involved is contrary to fundamental values.

Another case presented was the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2011 ruled in Lautsi v. Italy that the Italian law requiring schools to display crucifixes in classrooms in state schools did not violate the European Convention on Human RIghts.  The ECHR accepted the argument that the crucifix in Italy was not a religious symbol but could instead be viewed as a national, historical, and cultural symbol.  

Other cases discussed included European and Italian cases on the recognition and protection of same-sex couples, and included a debate on the legal differences between same-sex marriage and civil unions. 

This innovative international human rights and constitutional rights course is being taught by Professors Giovani Coinu and Dr. Gianmario Demuro (pictured at right) of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law.  Assisting are Professors David Austin of the California Western School of Law and Mark E. Wojcik of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Dr. Demuro and Professor William B.T. Mock Jr. of The John Marshall Law School had previously worked on a book on Human Rights in Europe.  Click here for more information about that book.



May 22, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ITLOS Judgment in M/V LOUISA Case To Be Announced

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has announced that it will deliver its judgment in the M/V LOUISA (St. Vincent and the Grenadines v. Kingdom of Spain) case on Tuesday, May 28. The judgment will be read by the the President of the Tribunal, Judge Shunji Yanai, in the Tribunal's main courtroom in Hamburg.

According to an ITLOS Press Release, the dispute concerns the M/V "Louisa", a vessel flying the flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which was boarded, searched and detained by Spanish authorities on 1 February 2006. According to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the M/V "Louisa" was engaged in conducting surveys of the sea floor with a view to locating oil and gas deposits, on the basis of a permit issued by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment. According to the Spanish authorities, several pieces of underwater archaeological origin, five "assault rifles" and a handgun were found on board during the search of the vessel. On the day the vessel was detained, the Spanish authorities also arrested two crew members and another person who was staying on the vessel and took them into custody; another crew member was later arrested in Portugal. By indictment of the Court of Criminal Investigation No. 4 of Cadiz, criminal proceedings were instituted for alleged violations of Spanish laws on "the protection of the underwater cultural heritage and the possession and handling of weapons of war in Spanish territory".

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has requested that ITLOS declare Spain's actions to be unlawful and order reparations. Spain requests the Tribunal find that the application is inadmissible and the Tribunal has no jurisdiction.


May 21, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)