Latest News and Events

Event: “Conflicts between Human Rights”

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University is organizing a symposium on “(How) Should the European Court of Human Rights Resolve Conflicts between Human Rights?”

Date: 16 October 2014gent

Venue: Human Rights Center, Ghent University, Convention Center Het Pand (Zaal Rector Vermeylen), Onderbergen 1, Ghent, Belgium.

The Symposium aims to evaluate the legal reasoning of the European Court of Human Rights in conflicting rights cases and to propose novel methodological tools and frameworks for the judicial resolution of conflicts between human rights in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In order to tackle these challenges, a number of renowned scholars have been invited to present their views on how (specific) conflicts between human rights ought to be resolved. First, a small number of scholars will set the stage for the debate by outlining their general approaches, frameworks and tests for the judicial resolution of conflicts between human rights in the ECHR context. Following these general presentations, a larger number of panels will address specific types of conflicts. To ensure productive and spirited debate, the participants in the specific panels have been asked to present their views on how certain pre-selected ECtHR cases should be (or should have been) resolved.

In order to increase the practical relevance of the Symposium and to offer the speakers useful feedback on the practicality of their advocated approaches, a number of (former) ECtHR Judges have been invited to comment on the practicality and feasibility of the proposed approaches.

Download the full programme here.

Registration: If you would like to attend the event, please register before 10 October 2014 by sending an e-mail to the attention of Stijn Smet.

Central African Republic: MINUSCA and Complementary Justice Mechanisms

As the United Nations recently took over the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), calls for imminent justice were made earlier this week by Human Rights Groups.

UN Secretary-General meets with internally displaced people camped near the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, 5 April 2014 ©UN Photo/Evan Schneider

UN Secretary-General meets with internally displaced people camped near the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, 5 April 2014
©UN Photo/Evan Schneider

MINUSCA officially started its mission on 15 September 2014. Adopted by the Security Council in April 2014, Resolution 2149 gives mandate to MINUSCA to ensure the security of the civilian population, contribute significantly to the establishment of the rule of law with the redeployment of the public services and help to fight against impunity. This force deployment, in majority composed of the African forces of the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) placed under UN command, must continue until April 2015, date on which the mission should reach the total number of 10 000 soldiers and 2 000 policemen. Continue reading

IACHR Questionnaire on the Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders

Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez
IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

Following information received in recent years by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) through public hearings and visits, criminal law is allegedly being used against human rights defenders in some countries in retaliation for their work in defending and promoting human rights. Regarding this issue, the Commission, in its Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, expressed its concern regarding the issue of criminalization, understood as opening groundless criminal investigations or judicial actions against human rights defenders which not only has a chilling effect on their work, but can also paralyze their efforts to defend human rights since their time, resources, and energy must be devoted to their own defense.

As noted by the Commission, criminalization of the defense of human rights is a complex phenomenon that may be perpetrated in different ways, by both state and individual actors. According to the information received by the IACHR, in some States both public officials and private individuals –including businesses or employees of private companies, for example– reportedly use criminal law to subject human rights defenders to legal proceedings in order to repress or discourage social protest or criticism of public officials. Often, these cases are said to be based on criminal charges devised in ways that run contrary to international law. Moreover, in some States, legal bodies reportedly issue precautionary measures in criminal cases, such as pretrial detention or bond, presumably in order to discourage and restrict the efforts of human rights defenders during critical junctures in the causes they are defending.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the IACHR Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders published a questionnaire of consultation with States and civil society for the elaboration of a report on the the Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders through the Misuse of Criminal Law.

The answers must be sent here before October 16, 2014 with the following words in the Subject: Questionnaire on Criminalization.

ICTY Association of Defence Counsel Newsletter no. 74

The Association of Defence Counsel Practising Before the ICTY (ADC-ICTY) has published its newsletter no. 74.

ADC-ICTY-300x300This edition covers the recent Defence cases in Mladić and Hadžić and the proceedings in Prlić et al.. In Hadžić, the ICTY Trial Chamber heard the Defence witnesses, including Goran Šehovac, a Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) soldier and military policeman, Ratko Adžić, President of Ilijas municipality, Milorad Bukva Head of the Security Department in the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps (SRK), Milenko Inđić, VRS Liaison Officer for Cooperation with International Organisations, Boško Gvozden, former Commander of the Gradiška Light Infantry Brigade of the VRS, and Radovan Glogovac, Vice-President of the local Serbian Democratic Party.

The newsletter provides analysis on two high-level discussions organized by the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in collaboration with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) on “The Use of Military Evidence in Counter-Terrorism” and with the Grotius Centre and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) on “Illegal Armed Force as a Crime against Humanity”.

The newsletter looks back at various decisions or judgments rendered years ago by the STL, the ICTY and the ICTR but keeps us up to date as well with the current proceedings in front of the Bosnian Constitutional Court, the ICC and the ECCC.

Event: “Gbagbo, Katanga and Three Theories of Crimes Against Humanity”

Asser InstituteDate: Wednesday 17 September 2014, 7pm.

Venue: T.M.C. Asser Instituut, R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22, The Hague, Netherlands.

Speaker: Darryl Robinson, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University, Canada.

SCL Lectures are public and free of charge. Registration is not necessary, seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

For more information, click here.

Latest Analysis

The Future of International Criminal Justice is Domestic

by Max du Plessis*

INTRODUCTION

International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court

Complementarity is certainly posited as a driving feature of the ICC regime. The ICC is expected to act in what is described as a ‘complementary’ relationship with domestic states that are party to the Rome Statute. The Preamble to the Rome Statute says that the ICC’s jurisdiction will be complementary to that of national jurisdictions, and article 17 of the Statute embodies the complementarity principle. At the heart of this principle is the ability to prosecute international criminals in one’s national courts, on behalf of the international community, or to have in place mechanisms to arrest and surrender to the ICC persons that the court seeks to prosecute and who happen to be in one’s jurisdiction.

Linked to the principle of complementarity is the practice of universal jurisdiction.  The ICC does not exercise universal jurisdiction.  But states do, and it is here that the real potential lies for states to act as impunity gap fillers – acting where the ICC is unable or unwilling to do so.

Various developments in Africa suggest a broader understanding of complementarity that is unfolding in practice and which is worthy of further exploration. This broader understanding in certain respects falls within the notion of ‘positive complementarity’, or perhaps better phrased, ‘proactive complementarity’ – a term meaning that the ICC and states should actively encourage genuine national proceedings where possible, and that national and international networks should be relied upon as part of a system of international cooperation. Continue reading

A Wrong Turn for Human Rights

by David Tolbert*

A Palestinian woman reacts upon seeing her destroyed house in Beit Hanoun town

Gaza, August 2014

The world has plunged into a period of brutality, with impunity for the perpetrators of violence. Syria is suffering untold civilian casualties as a divided United Nations Security Council sits on the sidelines. Gaza was pummeled to dust yet again with the world watching on. Iraq is in flames, with no end in sight. Atrocities are mounting in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which are also being swept by an epidemic of sexual violence. Even Europe is not immune: a civilian aircraft was shot down over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, and officials were prevented from investigating.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more than a decade after the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), shockingly little is being done to stop these abuses, and the prospects of the victims ever getting justice, let alone bringing the perpetrators to account, seem ever more remote.

For many years, the world seemed to be progressing toward greater recognition of human rights and demands for justice. As democracies emerged in Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, these issues assumed increasing importance. Although wars, conflicts, and atrocities continued, the global powers tried, and occasionally managed – albeit chaotically and usually late – to stop the killing. Continue reading

Corporate Criminal Liability for International Crimes & the Alien Tort Statute

James G. Stewart, an assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia and a former war crimes prosecutor, has published an article entitled “The turn to Corporate Criminal Liability for International Crimes: Transcending the Alien Tort Statute” in the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics. The full article is available here.

Protesters Seeking to Hold Royal Dutch Shell Liable for Human Rights Abuses ©Minn. J. Int’l L.

Protesters Seeking to Hold Royal Dutch Shell Liable for Human Rights Abuses ©Minn. J. Int’l L.

Abstract: In November 2013, Swiss authorities announced a criminal investigation into one of the world’s largest gold refineries, on the basis that the company committed a war crime. The Swiss investigation comes a matter of months after the US Supreme Court decided in Kiobel that allegations such as these could not give rise to civil liability under the aegis of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). Intriguingly, however, the Swiss case is founded on a much earlier American precedent. In 1909, the U.S. Supreme Court approved the novel practice of prosecuting companies. Unlike the Court’s position in Kiobel a century later, the arguments that ultimately led to the open-armed embrace of corporate criminal liability were unambiguously concerned with impunity. For the U.S. Supreme Court, doing without corporate criminal responsibility would create a significant and highly undesirable regulatory gap. After that, the American fiction that corporations are people for the purposes of criminal law took hold, such that the concept is now relatively ubiquitous globally. Even jurisdictions that bravely held out for decades on philosophical grounds have recently adopted corporate criminal liability. Switzerland is one such case. Continue reading

The Day AU Leaders Justified the Existence of the ICC!

by Arnold Tsunga and Wayne Jordash QC

African leaders

African Union Summit, July 2014

There is a general notion that the law is like a spider’s web. It only catches the weak.

The decision adopted by the AU heads in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to grant immunity from prosecution for serious human rights violations to heads of state and senior government officials at the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples Rights only serves to reinforce this perception.

Heads who faced justice

Few African heads of state have been tried for serious human rights violations of their own people. Those that come to mind are Charles Taylor (Liberia) and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt).  Charles Taylor was tried by a hybrid tribunal set up under the auspices of the UN in Sierra Leone (sitting in The Hague, a city that has become the seat of international justice). After being overthrown in a revolution, Mubarak was tried by domestic courts in what some view as flawed victor’s justice. The AU was not involved in either of these proceedings.

Others await or are going through trial. These are Laurent Gbagbo (Cote D’Ivoire), Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir (Sudan), Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto (Kenya) at the ICC, and Hissène Habré (Chad) at an AU sponsored tribunal in Senegal. The Hissène Habré case has been awaiting trial since shortly after the millennium. Legitimate concerns have been raised about the willingness of the AU leaders to see Hissène Habré face justice and the completion of the trial. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir has been largely protected by the AU heads that have refused to cooperate with the ICC to effect his warrant of arrest. Continue reading

Immunity under Pressure: The Case of Hugo Carvajal

by Philippa Webb

Hugo Carvajal

Hugo Carvajal © Reuters

A recent legal flurry on the island of Aruba (population: 100,000) has raised interesting questions about the nature and scope of diplomatic/consular immunity.

Hugo Carvajal, the former chief of Venezuelan military intelligence and retired General whose nickname is ‘el Pollo’ (the Chicken), was detained in Aruba on 23 July. He had been admitted to the island on a diplomatic passport and had been named Consul-General to Aruba by Venezuela earlier in the year.

According to news reports, he was detained at Aruba’s international airport pursuant to a request from the United States. He is accused of conspiring with Colombian drug traffickers to export cocaine to the US. In 2008, the US Treasury Department put him on a blacklist, alleging he had protected drug shipments from FARC and provided them with weapons and logistical assistance.

Venezuela’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs rejected the ‘illegal and arbitrary detention of [a] Venezuelan diplomat’ and invoked the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. A local judge in Aruba, however, rejected the claim of diplomatic immunity on 25 July. The judge pointed out that Carvajal’s nomination of Consul General had not yet been accepted by the Dutch authorities, which was required since Aruba is part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. The judge ordered Carvajal to be held pending extradition proceedings. Continue reading