Can International Law Change the World?

By Shehzad Charania

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice

This week, at the Residence of the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams opened the British Embassy Annual Lecture Series on International Law.  The guest speaker for the Inaugural Lecture was Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood of the International Court of Justice.

Ambassador Adams explained that the lecture marked the occasion of the Global Law Summit, which took place this week in London, as well the year in which we commemorate 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta of 1215.

Judge Greenwood’s lecture was entitled “Can International Law Change the World?”.  He began by referring back to the Magna Carta itself.  He explained that Magna Carta had changed “a world”: the law of England, albeit slowly and tentatively.  It established equality before the law; in particular, that even the King was subject to the law; and that justice was not to be sold or denied to anyone.  These principles form the foundation of the rule of law.

So could international law change the world in a similar way, Judge Greenwood asked.  He used as his point of reference the First and Second Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907.  The inspiration for those conferences had been a belief that international law could indeed change the world.  Specifically, the hope was that these conferences would legislate on the way war was conducted, including the reductions of certain armaments and prohibition of others, and set up an international court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which would enable States to settle their differences by law rather than war. Continue reading

ADC-ICTY Legacy Conference Publication

ADC-ICTY-300x300The ADC-ICTY Legacy Conference took place on Friday 29 November 2013 in The Hague.

The keynote speech was delivered by H.E. Judge Theodor Meron, ICTY President. Speakers and moderators included The Right Hon. Lord Iain Bonomy, Judge Bakone Justice Moloto, Judge Howard Morrison, as well as renowned Defence Counsel.

The ADC-ICTY has published the conference proceedings in the form of a Legacy Conference Publication in 2015. The publication contains the transcripts of the conference as well as additional articles and is available here.

Event: Hidden Genocides – Summer Course

Date: 12 – 31 July 2015

Venue: Graduate School of Social Sciences, University of Amsterdam

UVA logo

The Twentieth Century was considered, by many scholars who study political violence, “the century of genocide” with the Holocaust as the epitome of industrial and mechanical violence. Yet there were many genocides before and after that.

The question rises “what is genocide”? How does it differ from other forms of collective violence? What triggers genocide? Why are the acts during genocide so gruesome? What is the cultural of genocide? What are the consequences of its legal definition? Why do people perpetuate genocide?

These and more questions will be answered during this course. We will thereby not only look at familiar cases of genocide, like the Holocaust, Rwanda and Srebenica, but also “hidden” and unknown genocides and the mass atrocities happening right now in South Sudan, Central Africa and Syria/ North Iraq. This course will give you an analytical model to understand and study genocide and measure proper interventions. Continue reading

Calls for Reform of the UN to Protect Civilians from International Atrocities

Lately there has been a resurgent in the calls from the international community for reform of the United Nations (UN) system in order to better protect populations from mass atrocities. This year commemorates the 70th anniversary of the United Nation’s founding in 1945, which was created to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” but it has sparked debate about the functioning of the different bodies of the UN.

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Yesterday, Amnesty International released its 2014/2015 annual report urging the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the UK, China, France, Russia and the US) to renounce their power of veto in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities.

Salil Shetty, the organisation’s Secretary General, said in a statement that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had “miserably failed” to protect civilians and that the UNSC permanent members had used their veto to “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.”

A week earlier, Madeleine Albright, chair of the Advisory Council of The Hague Institute for Global Justice and former US Secretary of State, voiced her concern about the world’s attempt to uphold an international order which came into place 70 years ago while an “awful lot of things have changed in the meantime.” Continue reading

Is the International Community Abandoning the Fight Against Impunity?

by David Tolbert*

Court HammerTwenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more than a decade after the establishment of the International Criminal Court, shockingly little is being done to stop massive human rights abuses. The prospects of victims receiving justice, let alone bringing perpetrators to account, seem ever more remote.

In recent days, we have witnessed horrific atrocities by Boko Haram, with only a limited response by the international community. The bloody handiwork of ISIL is grabbing headlines, and there seems to be no coherent strategy to address its barbarity. In Syria conflict rages, with untold civilian casualties as a divided UN Security Council sits on the sidelines. Gaza is struggling to recover after its umpteenth destruction. Eastern Ukraine is rocked by daily attacks on civilian targets, and very few seem to remember the downing of a civilian airplane there, in which 295 people died. This somber list could go on and on.

In my view, the response by the international community to these horrors is one primarily of lip service and well-worn shibboleths. Indeed, powerful states often seem to be casting support to whichever group of killers best suits their interests, with only faint rhetorical nods to human rights.

This is not only a professional reaction to these disturbing trends; it is also born of deep personal concerns and experiences. I joined the United Nations in 1993 to work on issues in Palestine and started my new job on the very day the Oslo Accords were signed, marveling at both the apparent breakthrough and my seeming good fortune to be part of an era of peace building. Several years later I joined the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and later sat across a jail cell desk from one of the principal architects of the Balkan tragedy, Slobodan Milosevic, whose prevarications were then being made from behind bars, far from the halls of power. In 1998, I was in Rome for negotiations on the International Criminal Court; I was both awed by the apparent flowering of international justice and a bit nervous that the world perhaps did not understand fully the implications of such a groundbreaking step. Continue reading

Independent Report into the Proceedings of the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh

ICT Bangladesh

The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh

Last week, an independent report into the proceedings of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh was published. The comprehensive evidence-based report by Geoffrey Robertson QC is the first of its kind and concludes that the Tribunal’s proceedings fall seriously short of international standards.

Since its inception, the International Crimes Tribunal, which has passed a number of death sentences on opposition political leaders for crimes allegedly committed in the 1971 civil war in East Pakistan, has been the subject of significant criticism from both those who have appeared before it and numerous legal experts. All of whom have concluded that the ICT does not adhere to internationally recognised standards.

According to the 126-page report, the major concerns about the ICT are that the Tribunal lacks impartiality, it allows for the death penalty to be imposed without providing a higher standard of procedural safeguards, it permits trials in absentia and there are concerns about witness tampering and intimidation.

Further, the Tribunal appears to have no rules about admissibility of evidence: many of the convictions have been based on hearsay, and in effect, on guilt by association. The Tribunal does not provide the basic guarantees required by international human rights treaties; the rules about providing adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence have been consistently breached, and most notably, defendants are excluded from enjoying the constitutional protections available to all other Bangladeshi citizens. Continue reading

Ex-President of Chad to Stand Trial for International Crimes

Hissène Habré

Senegalese authorities have ruled on Friday 13 February that Hissène Habré, a former President of Chad, will stand trial to face charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.

The Extraordinary African Chambers, an internationally backed court, was set up by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s eight-year rule.

After a 19-month investigation, a four-judge panel revealed that there was sufficient evidence that serious breaches of international law were committed during Habré’s presidency, which lasted from 1982 to 1990.

According to a 1992 Chadian Truth Commission, Habré’s government was responsible for conducting 40,000 political murders and systematically torturing more than 20,000. The government periodically targeted various ethnic groups such as the Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, killing and arresting group members en masse when it was perceived that their leaders posed a threat to Habré’s rule. Continue reading

Event: Frits Kalshoven Competition on International Humanitarian Law 2015

ICRC Humanitarian ActionThe Netherlands Red Cross and Belgian Red Cross-Flanders invite you to attend the Finals of the Frits Kalshoven Competition on International Humanitarian Law 2015 on Friday afternoon 27 February 2015.

The Competition, which will take place for the 8th year, has as its objective to engage ambitious Law students in the implementation of the rules that apply during armed conflict. The theme of this year’s competition is “Warfare in densely populated areas”, a subject that has been in the news often recently.

The focus will be on realistic dilemmas surrounding use of explosive weapons and the protection of civilians.

After an intense week full of workshops, lectures, role plays and pleadings about international humanitarian law, two teams will compete in the grand finale of the Moot Court in front of a bench of reknown experts:

– Judge Alphons Orie (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia)

– Commodore Peter Heblij (Head Military Legal Service, Netherlands Ministry of Defence)

– Ms Mariya Chavdarova Nikolova (ICRC, Editor of International Review of the Red Cross)

The prize for Best Oralist will be awarded by Pieter de Jong Schouwenburg (Van Doorne Advocaten).

The Competition will take place at The Hague Crown Plaza (Van Stolkweg 1, 2585 JL Den Haag) on 27 February 2015.

You can register online until 20 February.

ICTR Prosecutor Manual on Referring International Criminal Cases to National Jurisdictions

“We are at a critical stage in the transition of international criminal justice. The primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting international crimes no longer lies with ad hoc tribunals like the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR); rather that responsibility has shifted to national authorities.”

This is the first sentence of the foreword accompanying a manual released on 10 February by the Prosecutor of the ICTR and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), Mr. Hassan Bubacar Jallow, sharing his office’s experience in securing the referral of ten genocide indictments to national jurisdictions for trial.

1998. The trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu begins. With this case, the ICTR becomes the first international tribunal to enter a judgement for genocide and the first to interpret the definition of genocide set forth in the 1948 Geneva Conventions. ©ICTR

1998. The trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu begins. With this case, the ICTR becomes the first international tribunal to enter a judgement for genocide and the first to interpret the definition of genocide set forth in the 1948 Geneva Conventions. ©ICTR

According to Mr. Jallow, the shift to primacy of national prosecutions is reflected in the Rome Statute’s principle of complementarity, as well as in the establishment of the MICT, which makes the referral of cases to national jurisdictions a priority in the completion of the ad hoc tribunals’ remaining work.

The 57-page long manual, “Complementarity In Action”, shares lessons learned from the ICTR Prosecutor’s referral of international criminal cases to national jurisdictions for trial. The Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) experiences provide useful lessons for other international courts and tribunals seeking to refer international criminal cases to national jurisdictions. They also provide valuable lessons for national jurisdictions seeking to establish their own ability to fairly prosecute international crimes at the domestic level. Continue reading

EU Human Rights Review Panel Annual Report

The European Union Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has just released its fifth Annual Report. As in previous years, the Panel continued throughout the reporting period with its review of complaints of human rights violations by EULEX Kosovo in the conduct of its executive mandate in the justice, police and customs sectors.

Family member from Krusha e Vogel/Mala Krusa, 25 March 2014/ Enisa Kasemi ©EULEX

Family member from Krusha e Vogel/Mala Krusa, 25 March 2014/ Enisa Kasemi ©EULEX

In 2014, the Panel conducted five sessions and reviewed 35 complaints and witnessed a considerable increase in its case-load with the receipt of 42 new complaints. The Report details the findings of these cases and of the recommendations submitted to the Head of Mission of EULEX Kosovo to address violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Panel and its Secretariat also continued with its outreach campaign in order to disseminate information about its mandate, including a TV information campaign. It concentrated its efforts primarily on the Kosovo judiciary, human rights and legal aid NGOs, civil society representatives as well as religious bodies in Kosovo.

EULEX is deployment of EU police and civilian resources to support Kosovo on its path to a greater European integration in the rule of law area. In April 2009, EULEX became fully operational. The EU Joint Action of February 2008 and Council Decision of June 2010 and June 2012 provide the legal basis for the Mission. EULEX works within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. EULEX is supported by all 28 European Union Member States and five contributing States (Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States), and its mandate runs until June 2016.

The Annual Report – 2014 of the EU Human Rights Review Panel is available in the Albanian, Serbian and English languages.

iLawyer Dr. Guénaël Mettraux is a member of the Panel.