Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda

by David Tolbert*

Donald TrumpDonald Trump’s inaugural speech has fittingly been described, as “dystopian,” as “dark,” as “a declaration of war.” The new president made no call for unity, did not reach out to a soul not already in his camp — despite losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes — nor uttered a word to bring together a fractured nation or address a world deeply nervous at his ascension to the most powerful of offices.

In the first few days as president, his actions mirrored his words. Trump has rushed headlong into creating further divisions and has begun an assault on human rights and basic decency — including a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees from entering the United States and the resurrection of CIA “black sites“ — and promises more to come.

The new president exalts torture, mocks the disabled, casts aspersions on those who defend human rights, appeals to racist sentiments through coded and not-so-coded language and denigrates women in both word and deed. He shows no regard for the Geneva Conventions or the painstaking work of generations of human rights activists, many of them American, to ensure that civilians are not abused in times of conflict and that the vulnerable are protected.

For good measure, he seems to demean virtually every restraint that protects the citizen from the state. His first call as president to a foreign leader was to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who crushed the protests against army rule, devastated Egypt’s civil society with draconian laws targeting human rights defenders and turned Egypt’s legal institutions into “kangaroo courts.” A chilling signal indeed. Continue reading

As History Restarts, Five Strategies for International Human Rights Organisations

With liberalism facing its greatest test since the end of the Cold War, international human rights organisations need to adapt to survive.

By Rupert Abbott, Daniel Eyre, Jenna Holliday and Ou Virak*

berlin-wall

A fragment of the Berlin Wall

With wars raging across the world, from Syria to Nigeria, the corresponding refugee crisis, shrinking space for civil society, and the rise of right-wing populism, 2016 was annus horribilis for human rights.

Behind this deteriorating situation are a number of trends, which suggest not only that worse may be yet to come but also amount to an existential crisis for the international human rights movement.

Human rights international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) recognise that new challenges call for new responses. We join others in identifying strategies that will be crucial to defending rights in a changing world.

The end of history

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 signaled the end of the Cold War and ushered in an era of optimism for liberal democracy, with respect for human rights – particularly civil and political rights – as one of its cornerstones.

That year, Francis Fukuyama asked in his seminal essay whether the world was at the “End of History?”

With the defeat of fascism in the middle of the 20th century, and the collapse of communism towards its end, Fukuyama described the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism … the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy …”

The years that followed were a heyday for liberal internationalism, with the foreign policies of liberal democracies – led by the US – guided by the aim of enlarging the “community of market democracies”, and, with this, their dominance. Continue reading

Latest Newsletter of the Human Rights Review Panel

HRRPThe Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP) has issued its fourteenth newsletter. The newsletter comprises a detailed analysis of the Panel’s decisions between August and October 2016.

The newsletter also highlights the meetings that the HRRP held with officials and international organisations. The Panel met with the Head of the EULEX Mission in Kosovo. Meetings with EULEX representatives are essential for the cooperation between the Panel and EULEX as the HRRP’s mandate is to review alleged human rights violations by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in the conduct of its executive mandate. The Panel will look into whether a violation of human rights occurred or not and formulate recommendations for remedial action.

The Panel also met with the European Union Special Representative in Kosovo as well as with the European External Service (EEAS) and the Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management, (CivCom). The discussions concerned the caseload of the Panel, the implementation of the decisions of the Panel by the Head of Mission and the future legacy of EULEX Kosovo as well as the legacy of the Panel.

This year, the Panel reviewed some twenty-two cases and it has found that EULEX Kosovo committed nine human rights violations. There are currently fifty-seven cases pending before the Panel.

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

Letpadaung, Daw Khin Win and Impunity

Sagaing Region ministers have been meeting opponents of the Letpadaung copper mine to discuss a list of grievances, including lingering questions about the death of a protester.

By Vani Sathisan*

Letpadaung Copper Mine

The Letpadaung Copper Mine

“Here is a real bullet, beside a shotgun shell with rubber pellets inside, that were used on the day Daw Khin Win was killed. I kept them as evidence. Why were real bullets used to disperse a crowd that was peacefully protesting?”

A relative of Khin Win put the question to representatives of the International Commission of Jurists during a recent visit to Monywa to monitor the human rights impact of the nearby Letpadaung copper mine.

The bullet displayed by the villager was used in the fatal shooting on December 22, 2014, of Khin Win, a landowner, during a protest against the expansion of the mine. Two other villagers were hurt in the same protest over the seizure of land in 35 nearby villages.

There remains a lack of transparency about whether there has been any credible investigation of villagers’ claims that workers from Wanbao joined forces with police that day to violently disperse the protestors.

Wanbao – a subsidiary of China’s state-owned weapons maker Norinco, which runs the mine in a joint venture with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited – restarted production in May. In April, Wanbao released a slick corporate social accountability video called “A New Dawn” to show it had a “social licence” to operate.

However, the ICJ’s discussions with affected communities, including meetings at the Sagaing regional hluttaw and the General Administration Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, found different sentiments in villages near the project. Grievances in the communities included land grabs, loss of livelihoods and environmental damage. Continue reading

Event: The Death Penalty and International Law

the-hague-institute-for-global-justiceDate: Wednesday 5 October 2016, from 18:30 – 20:00.

Venue: The Hague Institute for Global Justice (Sophialaan 10, The Hague).

Speakers:

  • Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher at the Hague Institute for Global Justice, will lead the conversation with:
  • Edward Fitzgerald QC, joint head of Doughty Street Chambers and member of Doughty Street International.
  • Professor Jennifer Trahan, Associate Professor at NYU.
  • Sadakat Kadri, author and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.
  • Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty team.

The panel will debate some topical issues in relation to the (in)consistencies between the death penalty and international (human rights) law, including the use of the mandatory death penalty, the linkage between the International Criminal Court and the death penalty, capital punishment under international and Islamic law, and the use of specific methods of applying the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment.

In order to register, please click here.

Vacancy: Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights – NUI Galway

Nui GalwayThe National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway seeks to appoint a Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, within the School of Law.

In filling the Established Professorship in Human Rights Law, NUI Galway is seeking a person with an international reputation for academic excellence in Human Rights Law combined with strong leadership skills who will complement the existing strengths of the Centre and enable it to develop new areas of activity in line with its future strategic priorities. S/he will normally have a doctoral- level degree in Human Rights Law and a substantial record of teaching and research, the later evidenced by substantial publications in the broad field of human rights. The post-holder will also be the Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at a critical time in its development having enjoyed tremendous success, nationally and internationally, particularly since 2000.

Academic staff members of the Centre are engaged in research of high international standing in a number of fields including: human rights, international criminal law, international humanitarian law, peace operations, ethnic conflict, political violence and transitional justice, socio-legal studies, Islamic law, Middle Eastern studies and Business and Human Rights.

The post-holder, as the recognised leader of the sub-discipline of Human Rights in the School of Law, will contribute to the development of the education and research programmes of the School. The Established Professor of Human Rights Law, in his or her role as Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, will also contribute positively and proactively to the collective leadership of the School of Law. S/he will be expected to work with colleagues in the Irish Centre for Human Rights, the School of Law and other stakeholders to develop an ambitious Strategic Plan for the Centre reflecting the most relevant emphases of the University’s current strategic plan, Vision 2020.

Closing date for receipt of applications is 17:00 (Irish Time) on Thursday, 20th October 2016. It will not be possible to consider applications received after the closing date.

For more information about the vacancy, click here.

Iraqi Civilians v. Ministry of Defence: Denial of Justice in Cases Involving International Torts

UK Soldiers Iraqby Rishi Gulati and Matthew Nelson*

The decision of the United Kingdom Supreme Court in Iraqi Civilians v. Ministry of Defence (No. 2) [2016] UKSC 25 (“Iraqi Civilians”) demonstrates how public and private international law concepts interact and affect the rights of individuals allegedly subjected to grave breaches of rights to access a remedy before courts of law.

 Iraqi Civilians: Background

The claimants, hundreds of Iraqi civilians represented by 14 lead claimants, brought claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 and in tort against the UK Ministry of Defence, for damages arising out of alleged unlawful detention and/or physical maltreatment by British soldiers between 2003 to 2008 in Iraq. After the cessation of the major combat operations in May 2003, the UK became an occupying power and began exercising the powers of the Iraqi Government on a temporary basis.

The Supreme Court’s brief decision, delivered by Justice Sumption, concerned the application of limitations to the claimants’ suits that operated as a matter of Iraqi law. Accepting, as the parties did, that Iraqi law applied in relation to questions of the Ministry’s liability in tort, the claimants were, by operation of Article 232 of the Civil Code of Iraq (the “Civil Code”), barred from commencing their applications (though their rights were not extinguished) by virtue of the operation of limitation periods to claims of this kind. Consequently, the claimants sought to invoke an order of the Coalition authorities, Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 (the “Order”), that operated to suspend the taking of proceedings in Iraqi courts against the UK Government, such that it conferred state immunity on the UK Government from legal process in Iraqi courts. It is this order, the claimants’ argued, that had the effect of suspending the limitation periods, as envisaged in Article 435 of the Civil Code. Continue reading

Gaddafi Son Saif al-Islam ‘Released’ from Libya Jail

Saif Al-Islam GaddafiMuammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam has been released from custody after his death sentence was quashed, his British lawyer said.

Muammar Gaddafi’s most prominent son was sentenced to death in 2015 for crimes committed during the revolution that overthrew his father. The sentence had been quashed by Libya’s new UN-backed government this year, and Saif is now at an undisclosed location after being released from house arrest in the mountain town of Zintan where he had been held for five years.

“He’s been released from Zintan detention. The release, I’m told, was on 12 April – there was an order from the central government,” said his lawyer. “He’s in Libya, he’s in good health, he’s safe and he’s well.”

The claim could not be independently verified, and neither the UN-backed government in Tripoli or Zintan authorities have yet commented on the report.

In practical terms, an amnesty for Saif would not be a decision the government can enforce as Zintan is home to one of the most powerful Libyan militias, and any release would depend on agreement by Zintan leaders.

His captors in Zintan refused to transfer him to Tripoli, where he was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in July 2015. The verdict had drawn condemnation abroad, with Human Rights Watch saying the trial was riddled with legal flaws and carried out amid widespread lawlessness undermining the credibility of the judiciary.

Saif al-Islam is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which issued an arrest warrant in 2011 on preliminary charges of crimes against humanity, murder and persecution for being part of the inner circle of his father’s regime.

Gaddafi’s lawyer said the ICC must now drop its case because of rules prohibiting a suspect from being tried twice for the same crimes.

“There was a trial, there was a conviction, he was sentenced to death. After that there was an amnesty,” he said. “I’m going to be filing an application that the case is inadmissible at the ICC under article 20 of the statute concerning double jeopardy.”

Event: Trials in Absentia in International Criminal Justice

IBADate: 8 June 2016 from 14:00-17:30

Venue: The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Sophialaan 10, The Hague, Netherlands

This event is organized by the International Bar Association.

The Keynote presentation will be delivered by the President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Judge Ivana Hrdlicková. 

Following the Keynote presentation, two panels of experts will discuss issues related to the theory and practice of trials in absentia: ‘Trials in absentia: human rights law & the judicial process’ (moderated by Dr Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director) and ‘Effective representation & ethics in trials in absentia‘ (moderated by Ms Anne-Marie Verwiel, expert in international criminal practice).

 Topics to be addressed include

  • Issues related to the fairness of proceedings, including notice to the accused, the right to re-trial, and effective assistance of Counsel
  • The tensions between the promotion of the rule of law, fair trial rights and efficiency of proceedings
  • The future of trials in absentia in international criminal law

The panelists include Mr Geoffrey Robertson QC, the former President of the UN’s Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr François Falletti, the former Chief Prosecutor of the Paris Court of Appeals, Dr Guido Acquaviva, the Deputy Registrar of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, Ms Héleyn Uñac, Deputy Head of the Defence Office of the STL, as well as other international experts and practitioners with experience in in absentia trials, including at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal.

Participation is free of charge. However, prior registration is required to attend the event.

You can register by sending the name and email of all attendees to Hague.Events@int-bar.org before 25 May 2016.

For the full programme of the event, click here.

Amnesty International: Israel Must Cease Intimidation of Palestinian Human Rights Defenders

Palestine IsraelAmnesty International issued a report this week calling on the Israeli authorities to end their long-standing attacks on Palestinian human rights defenders (HRDs) and halt the climate of intimidation of HRDs in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

According to the report, Israel is routinely violating Palestinians’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association in the OPT and are targeting HRDs, including by arbitrary arrest and detention, imprisonment, injury and torture. Israel authorities also are failing to protect HRDs from attacks by Israeli settlers and other extreme right wing activists, and in some cases they have been complicit in such attacks.

The report of Amnesty International lists a number of specific situations where human rights defenders have been intimidated, threatened by death, arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned.

In February and March 2016, a staff member and the director of Al-Haq, a prominent Palestinian human rights NGO, were subjected to a number of death threats. According to the report, these threats are directly connected to the organisation’s work with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Israeli ministers allegedly made calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, against Omar Barghouti, a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist, at an anti-Boycott Divestment and Sanction conference in Jerusalem on 28 March 2016. Continue reading