Thursday, December 10, 2015

Human Rights Watch Urges the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Release Political Prisoners

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should mark International Human Rights Day on December 10, by releasing everyone detained for their political views or for participating in peaceful political activities, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Congolese officials’ recent attempts to intimidate and silence peaceful activists and political opponents should end immediately,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “International Human Rights Day is an opportune moment for the Congolese government to reverse this troubling trend and release everyone who has been locked up for peaceful political activities.”

In one of the most recent incidents, on November 28 in the eastern city of Goma, police fired teargas and live bullets in the air when about 100 people were attending a peaceful protest against the government’s failure to halt massacres in Beni territory. A 14-year-old girl was shot and wounded. Authorities arrested 12 people, including two youth activists, three teenagers, and other demonstrators and bystanders. The teenagers were released after four days, but the others remain in detention on trumped-up charges.

Later that day, when an activist from the youth movement Struggle for Change (La Lutte pour le Changement, LUCHA), which had organized the protest, went to the police station to bring food to the detainees, police interrogated him for 45 minutes, slapped him, and tore his shirt.

On November 30, Goma’s mayor, Dieudonné Malere, and senior city and security officials met with three LUCHA members. Meeting participants told Human Rights Watch that the vice mayor, Juvénal Ndabereye Senzige, told a LUCHA activist that he was “the instigator of trouble in Goma using the cover of the LUCHA movement” and that, “if there are deaths in a future demonstration, it’s you who we will take and make disappear. We will take you to a place where no one will be able to find you.” In a meeting with Human Rights Watch on December 9, the vice mayor denied saying this.

On December 3, Mayor Malere issued a statement saying that LUCHA did not have the correct legal administrative documents and that it operates in “total illegality.” The mayor said that “all LUCHA members and those who support them, from near or far, [should] cease all activities aimed at disturbing public order.” Congolese law permits people to peacefully protest without being registered as an association, Human Rights Watch said.

Following the LUCHA protest, on December 3, a coalition of 33 Congolese human rights organizations, known as the Coalition for the Respect of the Constitution, published a declaration urging the Congolese government to respect the right to hold peaceful meetings and demonstrations. The coalition also expressed concern that the government’s announced national dialogue to discuss elections could lead to electoral delays, which it said would violate Congo’s constitution. Two days later, Congo’s communications minister announced that the government had opened an “administrative investigation” into the 33 coalition member groups.

Over the past year, government officials and security forces have clamped down on those who have opposed attempts to delay the scheduled November 2016 presidential elections and extend President Joseph Kabila’s term in office.

Under Congo’s constitution, President Kabila is due to step down in December 2016, at the end of his second term. Preparations for the November 2016 elections have yet to begin. Kabila and members of his majority coalition have indicated that the elections might be delayed, citing the flawed voter list and the high cost of elections.

The police and Republican Guard fatally shot more than 40 people during demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, and in Goma in January against proposed changes to the electoral law. Authorities have sought to ban political demonstrations in cities across the country, and dozens of youth activists, students, musicians, journalists, political party leaders, and supporters have been jailed. The National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) held many of those arrested for weeks or months without charge and without access to their families or lawyers. Some have been put on trial on politically motivated charges.

In the southeastern city of Lubumbashi on December 1, police fired teargas to block supporters of the TP Mazembe soccer team from entering a private stadium to attend a meeting with the team’s president, Moise Katumbi. The former governor of Katanga province, Katumbi resigned from Kabila’s political party in September, citing concerns about delays in organizing elections.

On November 4 and 5, three members of the opposition political party Innovative Forces for Union and Solidarity (Forces Novatrices pour l’Union et la Solidarité, FONUS), including a 78-year-old woman with a disability, were arrested in Kinshasa following a news conference by the party’s president, Joseph Olengankoyi, opposing delays in national elections. Those arrested were taken to a detention facility run by Congo’s intelligence services. The elderly woman was released after 26 days, while the other two were transferred to the prosecutor’s office after 33 days and charged with attacking state security. They are now in Kinshasa’s central prison.

The extension of Kabila’s term in office, referred to by his political opponents as glissement, or “sliding,” has met with widespread opposition, including by the Catholic Church, civil society groups, youth activists, and former members of Kabila’s majority coalition who have formed a group called the “G7.” Many have called for protests in early 2016 if the government does not start carrying out clear plans for timely elections.

Congo’s national prosecutor said during a news conference in Kinshasa on December 2, 2015, that public calls for people to go to the streets and demonstrate “are undoubtedly a very clear way of cranking up the engine or pushing the trigger and putting peace at risk.”

On November 28, Kabila announced he wished to hold a national dialogue to prepare the way for elections, though he did not say when it would start. Many opposition leaders have refused to participate, saying they believe it is another attempt to delay elections or to propose constitutional changes that would extend Kabila’s term in office.

Kabila also said that he would grant individual pardons to some political prisoners to help “restore calm.” Any initiative to pardon prisoners should be part of a broader program to release all prisoners held in violation of their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Congolese government should release all political prisoners as a critical step in the right direction,” Sawyer said. “This step should be accompanied by measures to prevent such abuses in the future, including by halting arbitrary detentions and prosecuting officials responsible for rights violations.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Democratic Republic of Congo, please visit:



December 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

National Immigrant Justice Center Statement: America Welcomes All Faiths

The National Immigrant Justice Center issued the following statement in response to hateful rhetoric about Muslims and refugees in the United States.


Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center

CHICAGO (December 10, 2015) — As a human rights organization that has been entrenched in the U.S. immigrant rights movement for 30 years, we’ve seen both the best and the worst of America’s treatment of immigrants. Every year, thanks to America’s history as a country that was founded by and welcomes immigrants and refugees fleeing persecution, we are able to provide legal services to more than 10,000 men, women, and children who have come here seeking more secure lives, who are drawn by America’s promise as a place that welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds, and who dream about pursuing education, building businesses, working, and raising families in peace. They strive for the day they can give back to the society that has welcomed them. While there are many ways in which the U.S. immigration system must be improved to be more fair and humane, it is not lost on us that the reason we can do this work, and represent these aspiring Americans, is that our country has a strong historical and legal foundation to do so.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric that has taken hold in our country’s political discourse in recent weeks is un-American and undermines the historical and moral foundation of our country. Proposals of state-sponsored discrimination and alienation of any group should alarm all Americans who value freedom of religion and speech. These are the types of policies the asylum seekers and refugees NIJC represents have fled – including Muslims who are fleeing the horrors of ISIS.

Our country’s immigration system has evolved through a constant negotiation of how we uphold our values of liberty and our legacy of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution, with the need to defend our own security. Promoting the categorical exclusion of any group based on their nationality or religion reveals a shameful ignorance of both U.S. immigration law and foreign policy, and neglects the disastrous cultural and security impacts that would be wrought by such policies. We are American because we welcome all faiths and backgrounds.

With offices in Chicago, Indiana, and Washington, D.C., Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit



December 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

U.S. Congressional Updates

On December 8, 2015, the U.S. Senate agreed to S Res 207, recognizing threats to freedom of the press and expression around the world and reaffirming freedom of the press as a priority in efforts of the United States Government to promote democracy and good governance.

On the same day, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 3766, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015.

Hat tip to the ABA Governmental Affairs Office.


December 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

International Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day Dec 10Marking this year’s Human Rights Day amid extraordinary global challenges, the United Nations is calling on the world to recognize and guarantee fundamental freedoms – long recognized “as the birthright of all people” – freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“In a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, we can draw inspiration from the history of the modern human rights movement, which emerged from the Second World War,” said Mr. Ban in a message to mark Human Rights Day, celebrated annually on 10 December.

Mr. Ban hailed the four basic freedoms identified by former United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt – freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear, and stressed that today's extraordinary challenges can be seen and addressed “through the lens of [those] four freedoms.”

The Secretary-General highlighted the condition of millions of people, who are denied freedom of expression and are living under threat and urged to defend, preserve and expand democratic practices and space for civil society for lasting stability.

Mr. Ban also noted that across the globe, terrorists have “hijacked religion, betraying its spirit by killing in its name,” or targeting minorities and exploring fears for political gain, thereby denying people their freedom of worship.

“In response, we must promote respect for diversity based on the fundamental equality of all people and the right to freedom of religion,” stressed the Secretary-General.

Speaking about freedom from want, UN chief said much of humankind is plagued by deprivation and called on world leaders to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the aim of ending poverty and enabling all people to live in dignity on a peaceful, healthy planet.

Mr. Ban also said that millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil the freedom from fear, adding that not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their homes.

“They run from war, violence and injustice across continents and oceans, often risking their lives. In response, we must not close but open doors and guarantee the right of all to seek asylum, without any discrimination. Migrants seeking an escape from poverty and hopelessness should also enjoy their fundamental human rights,” said the Secretary-General.

Lastly, reaffirming UN’s commitment to protecting human rights as the foundation of the Organization’s work, Mr. Ban highlighted the features of the Human Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to prevent and respond to large-scale violations.

Echoing those sentiments, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein added that “freedom is the ideal that underpins what we now recognize as international human rights law, the norms and regulations that protect and guarantee our rights.”

In a video message, Mr. Zeid noted that Human Rights Day 2015 marks the launch of a year-long campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of two of the oldest international human rights treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“These two documents, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the ‘International Bill of Human Rights,’ which together set out the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights which are the birth right of all human beings,” said Mr. Zeid.

He also stressed that freedoms set out in these documents are universal, applicable to everyone, everywhere and noted that traditional practices, cultural norms, cannot justify taking them away.

“The world has changed since the UN General Assembly adopted the Two Covenants in 1966.

The Covenants, together with the other human rights treaties, have played an important role in securing better respect and recognition during the past five, at times turbulent, decades,” added Mr. Zeid.

At the same time, the UN rights chief noted that the drafters of the Covenants could have had little idea of issues such as digital privacy, counter-terrorism measures and climate change, but respect for freedom continues to be the foundation for peace, security and development for all.

Lastly, echoing the theme of this year’s Day, he urged everyone to join the celebration of freedom, to help “spread the message the world over that our rights, our freedoms are inalienable and inherent – now, and always.”

(UN Press Release)

December 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Meeting of the International and Immigration Law Section of the Illinois State Bar Association

The Section Council of the Illinois State Bar Association's Section on International and Immigration Law will meet on Saturday, December 12, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel, as part of the ISBA's mid-year meeting.


December 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Human Rights Day 2015

Human rights UDHRHuman Rights Day is observed every year on December 10. It commemorates the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This year's Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50thanniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.

The two Covenants, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the International Bill of Human Rights, setting out the civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights that are the birth right of all human beings.

This year's Human Rights Day theme is "Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always."  The year-long campaign revolves around the theme of rights and freedoms -- freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear -- which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago. 


December 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

New Additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law

The Codification Division of the UN Office of Legal Affairs recently added new lectures to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law, which provides high quality international law training and research materials to an unlimited number of recipients around the world free of charge. 

The latest lectures were given by Sir Michael Wood on "International Law and the Use of Force: What Happens in Practice?", Professor Diamchid Momtaz on "La secession en droit international", and by Professor August Reinisch on "The Evolution of WTO Dispute Settlement." 

(Hat tip to Galina Rudenko)


December 9, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Reminder of Public Meeting of the U.S. State Department's Advisory Committee on International Law

Here's a reminder that the U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on International Law will hold a public meeting on Thursday, December 10, 2015 from 9:30 am until 5 pm at George Washington University Law School, Michael K. Young Faculty Conference Center, 716 20th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC. FR73865.

If you are able to attend the meeting, please send us a report that we can share with readers of this blog.

Hat tip to the ABA Governmental Affairs Office.


December 7, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Russia Passes Law Allowing Its Constitutional Court to Overrule Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights

According to a BBC report, the Russian Parliament, the Duma, passed a law yesterday stating that its constitutional court has the power to declare judgments of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to be unenforceable if they are contrary to the Russian Constitution.  The new law comes one day after the ECtHR ruled in Zakharov v. Russia that Russia's mobile phone surveillance program violated the right of privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

As a member of the ECtHR, Russia has an international obligation to comply with the judgments of the Court. Despite the binding nature of the ECtHR’s judgments,  the Court does not act as an appellate court and cannot overrule a domestic court decision or a domestic law. It only decides whether the state is in compliance with its obligations under the Convention. So it is possible for Russia or any state to maintain a nonconforming law, but Russia will be liable to its international treaty partners if it does so.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe are charged with overseeing the enforcement of ECtHR's decisions. It remains to be seen how they will respond to Russia if Russia  begins to routinely ignore the ECtHR's decisions.   


December 5, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

US Supreme Court Further Limits Access to US Courts for Conduct Occurring Abroad

The United States Supreme Court issued a decision this week in Obb Personenverkehr Ag v. Sachs further limiting the availability of U.S. courts for claims that arise from events abroad.  The plaintiff in this case is a Carol Sachs, a California resident who purchased a Eurail pass on the Internet from a Massachusetts-based travel company.  She used the pass for a train in Austria operated by OBB Personenverkehr, an Austrian state-owned railway.  She fell as she was boarding and the moving train crushed  her legs, both of which had to be amputated above the knees. 

Ms. Sachs sued OBB Personenverkehr in U.S. district court. The railway defended on the grounds of foreign sovereign immunity.  Ms. Sachs argued that the commercial activity exception to foreign sovereign immunity applies because her suit is "based upon commercial activity carried on in the United States by a foreign state",  i.e., the sale of the railway ticket to her in California.  See 28 USC sec. 1605(a)(2).

The Supreme Court determined that the railway is entitled to sovereign immunity from suit. It found that Ms. Sachs' suit is based upon the tragic accident which occurred in Austria, not on the purchase of the Eurail pass in California.  Thus, the relevant conduct did not occur within the United States as required by the statute.

This decision continues the Supreme Court's trend towards limiting access to U.S. courts for conduct occurring abroad. 


December 2, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Remembering Professor Louis Del Duca

Lou Del DucaWe are deeply sorry to report the death of Professor Louis F. Del Duca of the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law.

Professor Del Duca was a leading advocate for the internationalization of legal education.

He was born as Luigi del Duca in 1926 in Abruzzo, Italy. He grew up in Pennsylvania where his father was a coal miner. He graduated from South Philadelphia High School and won scholarships to Temple University and the Curtis Institute of Music. He served in the Navy during World Ward II and later earned his B.A. from Temple and laws degree from Harvard University and the University of Rome.

Professor Del Duca joined the faculty of the Dickinson School of Law in 1956 and retired only in 2013, after 57 years on the faculty. Among other positions he held at the school, he was Associate Dean for International and Comparative Law Programs and Director of the Center for International and Comparative Law.

He was active in many groups such as the Association of American Law Schools, where he organized and moderated many panels on international legal education.

He was a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on International Trade Law,  was a U.S. Correspondent to the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) in Rome, and assisted with working groups of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). He was editor-in-chief of the Uniform Commercial Code Law Journal and was the author and editor of many other scholarly publications. He said that he "lost count long ago" as to how many publications he had.

Lou was married to his wife for 60 years and they had a large, loving family.

He died on November 27, 2015, over the Thanksgiving Holiday. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 12 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Church, 85 Marsh Drive, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

A tribute to Professor Del Duca on the Tax Law Prof Blog can be found here.

An obituary in The Sentinal can be found by clicking here.

And the warm dedication in the issue of the Penn State Law Review dedicated to Professor Del Duca can be found by clicking here. 

Donations may be made to the Dickinson School of Law’s Louis F. Del Duca Scholarship.

We extend our sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and students around the world. It was a privilege to know him. He leaves a tremendous legacy in international legal education.

Mark E. Wojcik



December 2, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)