International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: human rights

UN: LGBT Rights Wins

On November 21st, 2016, a closed vote by the General Assembly committee has now newly appointed a UN expert (independent investigator) to help protect and address violence/discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Human Rights Watch, claimed the expert’s: “work is a victory for human rights”, as many conservative countries (Mostly African) tried to block and halt this act, but in the end failed to do so.

05-16-ki-moon-free-equalThe Human Rights Watch along with 180 NGOs from 156 countries around the world called on the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Includes all member countries) to take a “principled stand’ that LGBT rights are also considered human rights. This vote rejected the African states draft resolution, “which deals with human rights, calling for consultations on the legality of the creation of the mandate.” They said that the work of the investigator should be suspended.

The Western countries successfully proposed an amendment (allowing investigator to continue his work) that devastated the African draft resolution. “The amendment was adopted in the third committee on Monday with 84 votes in favor, 77 against and 17 abstentions”.

Even though the Western countries won, Russia and Egypt spoke in behalf of 57 member-organization of Islamic Cooperation, stating that they would not cooperate with the investigator Muntarbhorn.

Being gay is a crime in 73 countries.

Russia’s Bid for Human Rights Council

(New York City) On October 28, the United Nations General Assembly will select new members for the Human Rights Council. Russia is running for a chance to represent Eastern Europe at the council (against Croatia and Hungary), which has two available seats. But the crime that they have committed in Aleppo has put them under fire and is hindering their chances.

Human Rights Council is considered to be the “world’s foremost human rights body”. More than 80 human rights and organizations, that include Human Rights Watch and Refugee International, have urged UN member states to drop Russia from the running, because of their military campaign in Syria. “Russia’s gross disregard for civilian lives in Syria and its responsibility for illegal attacks makes it unfit to serve on the council,” Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch.

2008_un_humanrightscouncilRussia has been supporting President Assad’s regime in Syria against the rebels and ISIS since September of 2015. Since then they have committed war crimes. Human Rights watch says that since September 19, 2016, “The attacks included the use of barrel bombs, cluster munitions, and incendiary weapons, and damaged or partially destroyed at least five hospitals in six separate attacks”. Russia have also been continually been providing the Syrian government with weapons.

I agree with these organizations, Russia must learn that there are consequences for their actions. I feel as if many have called them out on their wrong doings, but nobody has taken action. I feel as if this will help start sending the right message that the international community recognizes the crimes that they have committed and will not stand for it.

Protesting in Ethiopia

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In the midst of the biggest case of civil unrest to hit the country in twenty-five years, the Ethiopian government has struggled to deal with the growing number of protesters lining the streets. These protests began nearly a year ago last November in Oromia, and more recently in the Amhara region, which are the homelands of the country’s two most predominant ethnic groups. Tensions originally came to fruition in response to the government’s approach to development, but later continued with a resonating focus on longstanding abuses and discrimination of  historic proportions. The Human Rights Watch reported that protesters have been working “to express discontent over the ruling party’s dominance in government affairs, the lack of rule of law, and grave human rights violations for which there has been no accountability.” – and they are looking for the world to listen.

Most recently, the government declared a six-month state of emergency in a effort to maintain security in the affected areas. Under these circumstances, it has been stated that individuals may be detained without a warrant for their arrest. If that’s not a human rights abuse, I don’t know what is.

China Hunt’s Down Human Rights Lawyers!

“Is this what being a lawyer is like…? We have worked hard on behalf of the rank and file; and yet this is the misery we end up with!” – li Jinxing (Chinese lawyer)

Human Rights Lawyers in China have defended the countries most deprived citizens including: migrant laborers, ethnic and religious minorities, Political protestors, etc..
Today they face their toughest challenge: defending themselves from the Chinese Government.

China, has now been ruled by The Chinese Communist Party for more than 6 decades, they remain an authoritarian state that continues to suppress basic fundamental human rights. Like many authoritarian regimes, the senior leaders of the state, “perceiving a threat to their power, now explicitly reject the universality of human rights, characterizing these ideas as “foreign infiltration,” and penalizing those who promote them”. In 2015, new restrictive measures were put into place that promotes the “rule of law”. For Human Right’s lawyers this was a beginning of a nightmare.


The first case reported was of a prominent human rights lawyer named Wang Yu. Witnessing the mistreatment and torture of prisoners, when she was jailed in 2008 (for demanding to board a train in which she held a valid ticket), she began defending key human right’s cases which the government considered “sensitive”. She goes missing (along with her husband and son) on the early hours 9th July, 2015. Her friends received a panicked message, which stated that people are invading her home. Until today she is detained for the charges relating to state security, along with her husband who is also a HR lawyer. Between July and September of 2015, 280 HR lawyers were briefly detained. Today about 40 remain in custody in disclosed locations. These lawyers do not have a choice on whether they can have a lawyer and they are not allowed to see their families.

Another extreme case, which AlJazeera brought up recently, is of the lawyer Xia Lin. Xia Lin is best known for defending an outspoken Chinese artist named Ai Weiwei and fellow rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. He has been sentenced for 12 years on fraud charges. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 120,000 yuan ($18,000) and give total compensation of 4.8 million yuan ($720,000) to fraud victims. The government controls these courts, so the defendants do not have a fair trial.

Coming from Saudi Arabia, this is not news to me. Many states that break Human Rights laws try to suppress those who go against the regime. In Saudi, we all know to not talk about our suppression, as it will lead us into getting in trouble. Today many protestors actually get the death sentence when they try to seek justice. Saudi is a country built on traditions apart of that tradition violates what the West sees as basic human rights. I have now got used to the idea of where I live and I know how to follow the rules, progress is being made in Saudi just like it is in China, but they are baby steps.



Torture or Trickery in Guantanamo Bay

The early 2000’s were filled with a great amount of speculation surrounding the circumstances of the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Questions of torture tactics and classified messages between top FBI officials over the legality of the treatment of prisoners filled the media. Many agents working at Guantanamo Bay say tactics used by interrogators and other officials were certainly forms of torture violating international law; however, interrogators responded that they were following orders and their officers told them the prisoners were not protected by the Geneva Convention. Officials working at the prison did admit to their awareness of international laws, but many claimed they used trickery, not torture, as a way to get prisoners to give up information. While speculation still remains about the events that took place at Guantanamo Bay, a few things are for sure. First, the prison most certainly must follow international laws and is covered under the Geneva Convention. Next, the definition of torture is one that should be defined in broad enough terms to encompass all forms of mistreatment or ‘trickery.’ Lastly, if the question needs to be asked whether torture is taking place, it most likely is.


Central African Republic: Muslims Held Captive and the Potential for ICC/National Intervention

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch reported that anti-balaka fighters in the CAR have taken at least 42 Muslim Peuhl herders captive. Most of the captives are women and young girls, whom HRW urges may sCARuffer from sexual violence if the UN peacekeepers and CAR government do not act immediately to get them out.

In early 2013, Muslim Seleka rebels took over power in the CAR in a campaign of mass civilian killings and destruction of homes. By mid-2013, groups self-proclaimed as the anti-balaka came together to fight the Seleka in a huge reprisal campaign in which they attacked Muslim civilians, among those Peuhl herders. The conflict has killed thousands of civilians while also displacing hundreds of others. This conflict is ongoing between anti-balaka, Seleka, and international forces via UN peacekeepers and French troops.

In December of last year, HRW reported that a group of Peuhl had been held captive in Pondo by the anti-balaka. Though some survivors have been released thanks to intervention by local authorities and UN peacekeepers, these survivors and other witnesses insist that other Peuhl are being held captive in other towns and villages in the country. Allegedly, 30 are currently held captive in Lambi, 11 are in Ngbaina, and 1 is in Betefio. Others have been reported to be held in Gadzi and Gaga. Many have been held for more than a year.

HRW insists that holding civilians in captivity, murdering children, and sexually enslaving women and young girls constitute serious war crimes. And while something certainly needs to be done to deal with these atrocities, it is unlikely that the bulk of this action will come from CAR itself. This ongoing conflict, compounded by a lack of resources and legal expertise, has essentially left CAR’s national justice system unable to handle such serious international crimes.

An international solution, however, may be in the works. In September, the CAR referred the conflict to the ICC, prompting the chief prosecutor to open a second investigation in the CAR for crimes committed since January 2002. Yet, this does not mean that resolving the conflict will be totally left up to the international sphere.

In what I believe to be important steps for CAR’s own national legal capacity-building, the National Transition Council, which is CAR’s interim parliament, has been discussing the possibility of creating a Special Criminal Court. This court would be within the national judicial system and would include both national and international judges and staff. Essentially, the court would act as a complement to the ICC and would try those responsible for serious crimes, with a specific focus on sexual violence and crimes against children.

The potential for this Special Criminal Court to deliver justice to perpetrators in the CAR in a way that is more connected to the locale is large in my opinion. Undoubtedly, it would have been very easy to admit that the national judiciary was in no condition to handle such grave international crimes, instead simply handing over the responsibility to the ICC to prosecute. Yet, in doing so there would have been a lost opportunity for national capacity building. What would CAR have gained from outsourcing justice to the ICC without making its own attempts at strengthening its judicial system? Undoubtedly, it is encouraging to see the CAR making strides to take responsibility and shoulder at least part of the responsibility for prosecutions. Not only does this have positive implications for the nation’s future capacity to handle prosecution of serious international crimes, but it also has the potential to more intimately involve the locals in the process. For having suffered so much in this conflict, the victims are owed at least more involvement in the process of bringing justice to their perpetrators. Additionally, the Special Criminal Court’s specific focus on sexual violence and violence against children is a strong step toward elevating the serious status of such crimes and ensuring the prosecution of their perpetrators.

This is not to say, however, that intervening will be without its challenges. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the fact that both international and national intervention is coming mid-conflict, which as we have seen may pose challenges for the enforcement of indictments and arrest warrants, gathering evidence, and general national stability. Yet, if intervention doesn’t happen and justice is forced to wait until peace comes around, many more lives may be lost and the conflict could go on for much much longer. Ultimately, we will have to wait to see how this trade off, if there is one, will play out.

The Role of Women in Militant Groups

The world is very familiar with the brutality and ruthlessness that ISIS reserves for enemies and non-believers. Groups like ISIS and Boko Haram are able to recruit new members using methods of medieval cruelty through current technology. Men have very clear roles in their organizations. Unclear are the roles and recruitment of women. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS prioritizes the establishment of caliphate and a society. Integral to this creation is the presence of women. While jihadi chiefs have a clear strategy for dealing with male enemy (kill them), women victims are often captured and forced to join the organization to build the caliphate. Often women are sent to slave warehouses and lined up and displayed for ISIS fighters to choose among them; the woman’s future either marriage or sex slavery. Human Rights Watch found “a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces,” which is considered war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity. These methods are ISIS’ way of actively building social structures, but unfortunately for the women, many of whom have seen horrors, these social structures are the future of a society not worth living in.

Unfortunately with the existence of ISIS, there will be the existence of abuse of women because of the values that ISIS holds. The only way to protect these women will be to end ISIS, a difficult feat.

To read more about this issue click here and here.

Analyzing Corporate and Government Policies on Human Rights

On Wednesday, The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre introduced a new interactive feature on their website revealing how various companies and governments are addressing the effects of business on human rights. Founded in 2002, this UK based NGO works specifically to protect and advance human rights in regards to business practices worldwide. This tool allows for people to explore data collected from a survey of over 101 governments and 180 companies from around the world that were contacted and questioned on their human rights policies and methods of implementation. The results are categorized and detailed under the “Company Action Platform” and “Government Action Platform”, which illustrate the different ways in which each government or corporation surveyed is addressing or ignoring human rights in business. Only 40% of those governments contacted responded to the survey, while the company survey rendered a 52% response rate. The key findings from the study concluded that overall only four governments had completed instituting a National Action Plan for addressing human rights abuses in business, ten claimed to be in the process, and more than a dozen governments stated their commitment to considering how to best establish a National Action Plan. The findings from the company survey found that 34 of the world’s largest 50 companies have publicly instituted human rights policies into their corporate structure, likely due to the combined efforts of the 2011 passage of the UN Guiding Principles on Business, as well as the overall increase in public knowledge of corporate human rights abuses and the consumer movement to protest such companies. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre came to the overall conclusion that there needs to a greater cooperation between these governments and global companies to initiate policies aimed at protecting human rights, along with greater participation on behalf of the larger international community to hold these businesses and organizations accountable for their actions either in recognizing or ignoring basic human rights.

Sri Lanka Resists International Intervention. When does State Sovereignty Become Irrelevant?

Sri Lanka seems to be one of the less frequently discussed topics in international justice, despite a civil war that raged for 26 years, ending in 2009 with the government forces aided by the Indians defeating the Tamil Tigers. In January, a new government swept into power, and now it is attempting to delay, or even completely undermine the United Nations’ inquiry into war crimes committed during the civil war; the inquiry is set to be released in March as of now. The inquiry is supposed to be the catalyst of a debate at the next meeting of Human Rights Council, which will be held in March. The Council, after the meeting, can then contemplate measures to hold perpetrators accountable; the Council can actually defer to the ICC as well.

The Sri Lankan government’s position is that it can punish those accountable using its own system and commissions. A commission had already been established during the war to look into human rights abuses, including missing persons. However, this commission never made any of its proceedings or reports publicly available, despite organizing hearings. Furthermore, no prosecutions were carried out by the commission.

This begs the question: when does state sovereignty become irrelevant in terms of international justice? The Sri Lankan government has seemed rather reluctant in the past to carry out any kind of reconciliation. Should the international community intervene or give Sri Lanka another chance to carry out justice on its own?


Perinçek v. Switzerland

Currently in Strasbourg, France at the European Court of Human Rights Doğu Perinçek, a political activist from Turkey, is on trial against the government of Switzerland. In 2007, Perinçek was found guilty by a Swiss court for repeatedly denying the Armenian Genocide. This violates Switzerland’s anti-racism legislature. Perinçek brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights with the charges that the Swiss ruling infringed on his right to freedom of speech. In 2013, it was ruled 5-2 that Switzerland had violated Perinçek’s rights. The Swiss government appealed this decision and the court accepted the appeal. The trials are ongoing.

In class we decided that justice is so important partially because it recognizes the victims and perhaps bring peace to them. This is a contributing factor to why many European countries have outlawed genocide denial, particularly pertaining to the Holocaust. For the ECHR to allow Perinçek and others like him to deny the existence of a genocide that killed so many seems to be harmful to the process of reconciliation. Do you think that the denial of genocide should be illegal or is the ECHR correct in its ruling that freedom of speech should be protected?

Regional Justice for Russia: The Role of the ECtHR

When considering recent Russian violations of international law, from the invasion of Crimea to the massive human rights abuses perpetrated by the Russian army in Chechnya to ongoing Russia human rights violations in the form of police brutality, a corrupt legal system and laws targeting LGBT people, there are first seems to be little opportunity for international justice to intervene. While international sanctions like the kind being currently imposed on Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Crimea can be effective in spurring policy changes as we witnessed recently in Iran, sanctions do not have the same goals of reconciliation, reparations, accountability and deterrence that ideally accompany transitional justice mechanisms, whether through the ICC or traditional systems. Russia is not a state party to the ICC, and as a member of the UN Security Council, it has the power to veto any UN referrals or ad hoc criminal tribunals. Yet where international justice fails, regional justice plays a key role.

Russia has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1996, and so is under the jurisdiction of the associated European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The court acts as an official mechanism for Russian citizens to receive justice and acknowledgement of abuses perpetrated by the Russian state:

“Russian citizens have overloaded the system with petitions, and the ECtHR frequently has chided the Russian state for failing to address the underlying conditions that lead to these recurring human rights violations. At the same time…ECtHR decisions have been repeatedly cited by Russia’s highest constitutional tribunal—the Constitutional Court—in its determinations dealing with civil and social rights” (Pomeranz 17).

The ECtHR enjoys a high level of legitimacy within Russia, even at the state level, and therefore has a unique position to influence human rights norms. Citizens take advantage of the court to achieve reparations from the state for crimes ranging from torture, enforced disappearances and murder to judicial corruption and unfair court rulings. As Emma Gilligan writes in her book Terror in Chechnya “It [the ECtHR] now stands as the only avenue for moral justice and financial compensation for Chechen civilians” (Gilligan 182). Victims have been bringing their cases to this court, and although there has not been any accountability for perpetrators, the Russian government has recognized the court’s legitimacy and has been paying the ordered monetary compensation to victims. Alena Ledeneva highlights the key role of the ECtHR in her book Can Russia Modernise, suggesting that the court provides a recourse for citizens hurt by corruption and corrupt courts: “In modern Russia, however, sistema [informal corruption networks]’s victims can receive the protection of international law. International law courts provide an exit, even if it is not an easy road to take” (Ledveneva 153).

Prioritization of World News

What Syria’s Civil War Would Look Like in the West

A new video by international NGO, “Save the Children,” recently came out. The video marks the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria, in which over 10,000 children have died and over 2 million have become refugees. It features shots of a girl as she goes about her normal life over the course of a year, ending with the child celebrating her birthday in the context of what it might look like if the West was war torn like Syria.

The video does not necessarily promote peace for the sake of the future generation. Some people may criticize such works as something to stir emotions and pull heartstrings. The cinematography takes a spin to perhaps be more relatable for people in the West. Do you think this is effective in bringing more attention to the actual event? (in this case, the conflict in Syria)

NGOs have a big role in presenting the intention of justice in relation to the Tribunal but some documentaries and media projects are not well informed about the process of international justice and many may have misconceptions about it. Rather than bringing individual or group accountability, media attention can often reinforce the same divisions that divide countries during a war. News channels are often for-profit institutions that benefit from getting news out to people by numbers. What remains controversial in journalism is whether news should be based on viewership as much as what would be considered “newsworthy.”

The impact of creative international justice-related PSAs and interpretations of international issues can be vulnerable to misrepresentation and misunderstanding in the midst of garnering viewer support.

A case happening right now – even though Venezuela is only a couple hours away by plane from the U.S., news does not necessarily prioritize covering the Venezuela case compared to Ukraine.

In what ways do you see that U.S. and Western prioritization of certain parts of the news affecting the prioritization of involvement and aid in international justice?

Spanish Universal Jurisdiction

Spanish MPs have moved to block Spanish judges from exercising universal jurisdiction in the domain of human rights abuses. They have indicted two people: Jian Zemin, the former president of China, and Li Peng, former PM of China. There are a couple of big issues with this happening.

The first: if other courts are able to exercise universal jurisdiction, what does this do to the relationship between the ICC and such criminals? In other words, if every court begins exercising universal jurisdiction, would the ICC’s ability to prosecute such crimes diminish? Whilst there are a number of alternate forms of justice available in the international community, such as truth commissions, such a move from other courts would put the ICC almost in a race to indict before other courts. And, lets say both Spanish and Italian courts indicted the same people-who would get priority? Universal jurisdiction is important in upholding human rights because it gets at the idea that there is no hiding from some crimes-even some nations won’t prosecute.

But it’s difficult to see past the idea that this would, in some way, muddle the international justice scene. More voices and more courts doesn’t necessarily seem to add to the credibility of the ICC. If anything, such nations might be better served helping to capture UNSC indictees, rather than pursuing their own cases.

The second issue with this is the process itself, and the corresponding precedents. If Spain is able to pursue such indictments without some kind of international reaction, what stops other nations from following suit? To be sure, they do, and a number of other examples illustrate this-perhaps most notably the British and Pinochet. The ICC was created as a permanent body after Pinochet; part of this would be to ensure due process. The burden of proof (or bringing a case to the ICC) is high, but other courts are inconsistent with one another, with lower burdens of proof, corrupt officials and so forth. This is demonstrated in the ICC’s mandate itself-courts that are unwilling or unable form those nations for which the ICC can pursue cases. If these same nations are able to begin indicting foreign leaders, the net result might be farcical.

The question worth thinking about going forward is the relationship between the ICC and separate courts, and the precedent such a move from the Spanish could result in. Clearly there is a balance to be struck, between universal jurisdiction, defending rights and a slightly problematic precedent. At the same time universally supporting universal jurisdiction seems problematic, and may challenge the primacy of the ICC.

Saudi Arabia’s New Terrorism Law

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Pictured: Kind Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

Human rights activists were shocked this week when Saudi Arabia put into effect a new terrorism law that enables the government to prosecute “anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent.” Activists also say that merely “exposing corruption” could be seen as a violation of the anti-terrorism law.

The new law gives “broad powers,” which grant police the ability to raid homes and track internet activity on any suspicion of anti-government activity.  Security services are able to investigate these “suspicious cases” and need no prior approval from a judge or superior to do so.  Additionally, suspects can also be held incommunicado for 90 days and it is not necessary for lawyers to be present during the initial interrogation.  A UN special reporter on torture stated: “Torture is most frequently practiced during incommunicado detention.”

The new law defines terrorism as any criminal act that “destabilizes the society’s security or the state’s stability or exposes its national unity to harm.” Some terrorist acts include “disabling the ruling system” or “offending the nation’s reputation.”

Activists say the new law is a new attempt to keep the Al Saud family in control of the country. Saudi Arabia is one of the last countries in the world to have an absolute monarchy.  Every decision is made by King Abdullah, with no parliament to give input. The government has felt pressure from the country since the Arab Spring protests and there have been greater demands for democratic reform int he country.

In 2011, the government attempted to implement a similar law, but it was sidelined after human rights groups leaked a copy of the document online.  Since the incident, many activists have been detained and several rights groups have been shut down.  The Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights was one of the groups shut down and one of the founders, Al-Shubaily, is facing trial: 

“‘If I call for the release of someone from jail for being held longer than their sentence, I can be tried for ‘asking the state to take action,’” Mr Al-Shubaily said.  “When I call for a constitutional monarchy, I can now be charged with terrorism. They characterise you as a terrorist because you ask the kingdom to do something it does not want to do.’” 

Not only may this new law affect those within Saudi Arabia, but also international journalists and organizations abroad which “scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record could be targeted for prosecution in the kingdom,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Is this a circumstance in which the ICC should or might intervene? (Although Saudi Arabia is not currently signed onto the Rome Statute). The new law cannot be equated with mass murder cases, but is it worth an ICC investigation? Activists have expressed worry about the new law, especially due to its broad definitions, enabling the government to prosecute virtually anyone under it.


Possible Constitutional Reform in Colombia may endanger justice

UN independent experts urge Colombia to reconsider proposed criminal law for military

Amidst peace negotiations that could outline the future of transitional justice in Colombia, a new constitutional reform could pose grave danger to fairness and accountability in what concerns those crimes committed by members of the government.

The proposal entails giving military courts jurisdiction over human rights violations perpetrated by the military, jurisdiction that should belong to regular criminal courts. It would create “a Penal Guarantees Court to deal exclusively with accusations against members of the military or police forces of the Fuerza Pública.” Many activists and human rights monitors argue that this would create preferential treatment for members of the military, creating an atmosphere of impunity.

11 independent human rights activists and experts wrote an open letter to the Colombian government warning it of the dangers of such a proposal, calling it a “historic setback….in the fight against impunity…”. The United Nations human rights office also called on the Colombian government to reconsider such a reform.

Acquittal of Congolese militia leader poses challenge to the ICC

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, who had been charged with seven counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity in the DRC, has ben acquitted given that the Court failed to find evidence “beyond all reasonable doubt” that he was guilty of those crimes.

Human rights organizations have complained about the implications of his acquittal, and said this would leave the victims of his forces’ crimes without justice. They emphasized on the importance that the ICC strengthen its prosecution, given the length, cost, and many times poor effectiveness of their investigations. However, this acquittal by the ICC is also a sign that there fairness and the rights of the accused are a concern for the court.

The forces commanded by Ngudjolo Chui were responsible for numerous mass atrocities, including mass murder, rape, torture, dismemberment, etc. One particularly striking detail, “it was alleged that Lendu and other fighters used cannibalism to terrorize civilians who’d become inured to violent death during the war.” (CSMonitor)

Being the leader of such a lethal force, it is surprising that the ICC was not able to find sufficient evidence for his role as deliberate planner/executioner of these crimes.

Bloody Monday in Guinea, calls for the ICC, and the HRW

On September 28, 2009, there was an opposition rally in a stadium in Conakry (the capital city of Guinea). This included killings, sexual assaults, and more. These crimes were committed for the most part by members of the Presidential Guard of Guinea (with evidence hinting that it was planned ahead of time).

That was three years ago. Today, the Human Rights Watch released a report that analyzed what Guinea has done to hold the perpetrators responsible. For the victims, this means that they have been waiting more than three years for the abusers to be held accountable.

The investigation is not complete, and key witnesses have not been interviewed. Human Rights Watch is calling for the government of Guinea to give more support, including making sure that the panel of investigative judges can work effectively (and with enough resources).

The report also said that the ICC and UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict have contributed critical assistance. The ICC has Guinea situation under preliminary examination as of October 2009. Victims have shown that they are waiting for the ICC to investigate the September 2009 crimes.


HRW on the investigation

Israel announces more settlements in Palestine

In November 2012, the UN General Assembly voted on Palestine being a non-member observer state. Following that (on Friday, November 30), Israel said that it had authorized another 3000 housing units in the occupied West Bank. This was the day after Palestine was recognized by the UN as a non-member observer state.

On Monday, December 3, Amnesty International said that settlement construction was violating human rights and international law.

Ann Harrison (Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director) said concerning the announcement from Israel: ” This announcement sends a strong signal to the world that the current Israeli government has no respect for human rights and international law. Building settlements violates the rights of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and is prohibited in all circumstances.”

The settlements would be built on Palestinian land, but they are for Jews only. Israeli authorities did not consult the Bedouin communities, and most of the houses in the communities that are to be settled (by Israelis) have demolition orders. Residents have already said that settlers have been attacking/harassing the villagers.

Political Violence in Burundi

A situation that has not yet been discussed either in lecture or on the blog is the political violence that has occurred in recent years in the nation of Burundi.

Similarly to Syria, Cote D’Ivoire, and Libya, Burundi has experienced a series of on-and-off again violence after a civil war about a decade ago. There has been a cycle of violence and counter-violence between the opposition and the government and, most recently, a group of armed men killed 39 civilians in a bar in Gatumba last September. There have also been more and more political assassinations  and forced disappearances over the past year.

Both the government and the opposition have been unwilling to negotiate with each other. Burundi’s government has created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Human Rights body to investigate abuses, but neither have been particularly effective and many specialists don’t have hope that they will do anything to improve the situation. World Affairs Journal provides more background of the situation here:

Additionally, a conference that occurred in Geneva last week was meant to discuss various recommendations for the protection of human rights in Burundi. Human Rights Watch published an article on this conference, saying that because of the absence of justice and the continued impunity for perpetrators of these crimes, there has been little hope for peace in recent years. 

Is this a situation where the international community has a duty to step in? Do you think this case could ever be referred to the ICC? While the government of Burundi has made some efforts to secure human rights,  Burundi almost always ranks at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index  and probably does not have the resources to conduct trials of their own. Additionally, because the government has also been involved in the violence it is questionable as to whether they could provide fair trials. Burundi is an extremely small and politically insignificant country in Africa, as far as the West is concerned, so does the lack of attention and the absence of a push for justice in Burundi support the argument that the ICC is too politicized and controlled by the interests of the UNSC member nations?

Human Rights Violations: Crimes of Desperation?

Why is it that while we may say “never again” regarding human rights violations, we tend to see “over and over again” on the global stage? Despite the establishment of the ad hoc tribunals, truth commissions, and a permanent International Criminal Court, deterrence has yet to take effect to the degree that most would desire.  Naturally, the notion that establishing laws and enacting punishment will deter all potential perpetrators is unrealistic; if deterrence worked that well, we would not see crimes on the domestic level.  But one may expect the rate of these violations to strongly decrease.  Of course, I have not crunched all the numbers, but even a cursory look at the latest international news suggests that perpetrations continue at a frightening rate.  Why?  One argument could be that the ICC is too new to have fully established its credibility.  As we have discussed in class, most cases are still underway and the only conviction thus far is Lubanga.  Under this argument, the passage of time and more successful convictions could lead to an effective deterrent effect.

But will the passage of time be enough? Or, are there other factors that make deterrence more difficult than convincing a rational actor that the costs will outweigh the benefits?  Based on an observation of some current international situations, I would argue that there is an inherent difficulty (though by no means impossibility) in deterring human rights abuses.  This is because some human rights abuses are arguably crimes of desperation.

Before elucidating further, it is important to recognize that seeking to explain behavior and justifying that behavior are different things.  Behavior can be explained without being justified.  Therefore, as I continue, I hope that my attempt at explaining why perpetrators commit human rights abuses will not be misconstrued as an effort to justify such atrocities.  Furthermore, this explanation does not apply to all human rights abuses, but may explain some.

Human rights abuses are often committed in the context of wars; either during, or shortly after violent conflict.  Wars create desperate situations in which actors may believe that their survival (political and/or physical) is at stake.  Furthermore, many of these conflicts are asymmetric; for instance, a government’s army versus a rebel group (or often a group of distinct rebel groups).  In such situations, where survival or other non-negotiable goals are at stake and asymmetry exists, there is often an incentive to participate in unconventional warfare.  Unconventional warfare often involves attacks in civilian centers and other locations where collateral damage is highly likely.  Furthermore, facing such a situation, government forces will often resort to extra-judicial means to combat such vulnerabilities.  Essentially, both sides choose to fight fire with fire.  Conflicts then spiral, as each seeks to counter the new threats posed by the other.  As the conflict deepens, desperation worsens and human rights abuses proliferate.

Two current situations present this clearly.  The first is the conflict in Colombia.  As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, this conflict has raged for decades between the FARC and the Colombian government.  The FARC, in an attempt to maintain sufficient forces, has been recruiting child soldiers.  The government, desperately trying to root out rebels, has engaged in illegal surveillance and extra-judicial killings.  Until peace is arranged, such crimes of desperation are likely to continue and collateral damage will perpetuate.  The latest example being a suitcase bomb that killed the two suspected bombers and injured 37 people, including some children celebrating Halloween:

Another example is Nigeria, where men and teen boys in certain neighborhoods, have been rounded up and shot on sight by government forces.  Why? Because these neighborhoods are believed to be strongholds of the Boko Haram, an anti-government Islamist group.  The Boko Haram for their part have attacked Christians in churches and recently assassinated a former general in his home, entering his residence disguised as guests.

Regardless of which side initiated the violations of human rights, once such violations begin there is a high likelihood that both sides will participate in violations.  This may be because of the desperate nature of these conflicts, where confrontations between conventional forces on a separate battlefield will not occur.  Such an observation is frightening because if these violations are motivated by desperation, the ability to deter them may be highly difficult because those acting in desperation are usually more concerned with the short-term (survival and achievement of vital goals) than the long-term (accountability for crimes).

The Emergence of Justice Norms

An interesting article from the Guardian reports that Winston Churchill favoured executions and life imprisonment without trial for Nazi leaders. These revelations come from this week’s declassification of the diary of Guy Liddell, who was the head of counter-espionage at MI5 (so a pretty reliable source). Churchill’s position was opposed by before Stalin, who wanted to use trials as propaganda, and Roosevelt, who felt the American public would want trials. It seems Liddell also personally disliked the idea that Nazi leaders would be prosecuted for waging a war of aggression because of the precedent it set.

This article made me think about where the concept of transitional justice has developed and disseminated from. I think often the US claims responsibility for the emergence of universal human rights and transitional justice citing American exceptionalism, the Bill of Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in shaping the UN’s Universal Declaration, etc. The rest of the world seems to reject this position – perhaps because concepts of human rights and transitional justice are so ingrained in society that everyone would like to claim responsibility (and take the US down a peg). However, reading the Guardian’s article, it does seem that the impetus for transitional justice sprung from America. I’m interested in what everyone else thinks about the beginnings of transitional justice. Often I think I’ve been too dismissive of the role of the US in shaping normative values about justice, especially as other states and actors, such the EU/UN/any number of NGOs, are the current transitional justice vanguard. So should the US be credited more for the emergence of transitional justice?

U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights. Up for debate?

The candidates for the U.S. Presidency will be debating their foreign policy positions on Monday.  Will there be much talk of promoting international human rights? Likely not.

Some may argue that’s ironic, given the importance of America’s use of “soft power” and ability to achieve its strategic interests by promoting human rights in diplomacy.  Others may argue that human rights issues are secondary to, or follow from, establishing basic security, protecting borders, and ridding the world of criminals and terrorists. Still others may argue, on both sides of the ideological side, that the U.S. should have no role in promoting human rights lest it been seen as interventionist, neo-colonial, and hypocritical.

The blogosphere and Twitterverse is abuzz with questions that scholars and experts wish could be asked, but won’t be. For example, Foreign Policy magazine posted a list of 50 questions that readers and FP experts would like the candidates to answer. They’re tough and get to the crux of America’s foremost foreign policy and domestic security challenges. But only a few international human rights issues are raised, i.e. torture, targeted killings, human rights in the Middle East, repression in Russia, and the crisis in Sudan.

I also encourage you to read Sarah’s post and your classmates’ comments about the role that the U.S. should play in international transitional justice, particularly as victims’ rights to justice, truth, and a remedy are so important in post-conflict and post-authoritarian societies. Her post is in response to the U.S. adding those accused by the ICC to the “Rewards for Justice” program.

Since the candidates might dodge these issues, let’s put in our own two cents! Feel free to respond to these questions now, during, or after the debate and particularly if interesting HR and justice issues come up tonight.

1) What kinds of human rights issues should the U.S. promote in its foreign policy?

2) How would you convince the candidates that human rights and international/transitional justice issues should figure prominently in foreign policy? Is it a moral responsibility? Are there strategic advantages to doing so?

3) Should U.S. foreign policy continue to support international justice selectively, and under what circumstances?  Or universally?

4) Civil society groups in the U.S. are central to the transnational diffusion of human rights and justice. Should the promotion of human rights and justice be left to civil society and not the ideological whims and strategic interests of those in power?

The Big Fish

  1. Do the applications of “individualizing guilt” and targeting the “big fish” allow for (or even encourage) the occurrence of a scapegoat system?  Are there mechanisms in place to prevent this?  Particularly with political vs. military leaders, or higher level military leaders not directly involved in combat, it seems plausible that leaders who did not order, plan, or participate in H.R. violations could be falsely accused to fill a space, or even sacrificed by their party for some objective (i.e., hypothetically, a Croatian General no longer involved with the state is offered—since it’s unlikely victims would have seen him give orders—instead of the true perpetrator, who may still be useful in state affairs).  If so, does this matter?  In reference to the alternative of individualizing guilt, Osiel said, “then victims and the public at large would no longer be content to vent their rage on a small handful of now powerless individuals.”  If the big fish were the wrong fish, two of the three claimed roles of transitional justice would still be met and Osiel’s statement could support that the state and individual healing process & expanded dialogue should take precedence over accountability & countering denial.  And punishing essentially an effigy wouldn’t stand in the way of deterrence as long as society remained unaware. Looking specifically at this possibility, is “false justice” an acceptable compromise (regardless of courts’ knowledge or ignorance of falsity) as long as victims and society believe justice was served and move towards healing/reconciliation?

UN to investigate plight of US Native Americans for first time

Although this does not connect (yet) to the ICC or other direct means of international justice, I found it very interesting because it brings up the question of international interference in domestic matters of our own country. For the first time the UN will conduct an investigation into the plight of Native Americans in the United States.

James Antaya, UN special rapporteur on indigenous people is leading the investigation. Antaya is originally from New Mexico and well versed in Native American issues. In 2010, the United States signed the UN declaration on rights of indigenous peoples. This declaration establishes minimum basic rights for indigenous people globally. Antaya states that the goal of this human rights inquiry is to assess “how the standards of the declaration are reflected in US law and policy, and [identify] needed reforms and good practices.”

I think that it is generally observed that life for Native Americans living on US reservations is at best rough. Personally I believe this investigation is warranted and I am interested in reading the report when it is concluded. The potential recommendations are obviously still unknown but how do you guys think the US will react to the report when it is issued? I’m wondering what your reactions are to having the tables turned on us and being the target of an investigation by the United Nations.

Unilateral Jurisdiction

In one of our past lectures we learned about the idea of Universal Jurisdiction, or the authority of a governing body to take legal action against those whose alleged crimes may not have taken place within their jurisdiction.  Critics of the idea argue that it violates individual states sovereignty, and that any state could possibly construct universal jurisdiction tribunals.  The linked article discusses a Spanish judge named Baltasar Garzon, who was known for exercising universal jurisdiction from his home country.  While article primarily covers his recent personal legal problems, Garzon was made famous by calling for an investigation into the Bush Administration’s actions over Guantanamo Bay.

While an investigation never gained any traction, the idea of universal jurisdiction and the legality of Garzon’s action was in question.  Was their any legal basis for his actions, and if he did issue warrants, was anyone going to take them seriously?