Evidence of past and ongoing mass atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar took central focus in two significant developments last week, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the government to act to prevent genocide and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar issued her final end-of-mission statement. [UN News: ICJ; OHCHR Press Release: Statement] Also last week, the controversial government-created Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) released the executive summary of its final report, in which it found evidence of possible war crimes but not genocide against the Rohingya. [Al Jazeera] Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is proceeding with an investigation into the situation in Myanmar, authorized in November 2019; and, the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) has begun collecting evidence of the most serious violations of international law, since becoming operational in August 2019.
Category Archives: International Court of Justice
In an advisory opinion issued on February 25, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded that the United Kingdom violated core principles of international law by separating the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in the 1960s and continuing to administer the islands as a British territory. See Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 2019, para. 183. Despite the U.K’s numerous attempts to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction over the matter, the Court ultimately determined that it was competent to address the questions presented and issued its answer. See id. In its opinion, the Court made clear that the U.K’s actions with respect to this former colony run counter to what are now well-established rights of peoples to self-determination. See id. at paras. 177-178. The UN General Assembly is expected to discuss implementation of the advisory opinion, including returning the islands to Mauritius and resolving the status of the thousands of people the U.K. forcibly expelled from Chagos following its agreement with the United States to allow an American military base, and later secret CIA detention site, on the island of Diego Garcia. [Guardian; Nation]
The American state of Texas executed 64-year-old Mexican national Roberto Moreno Ramos on November 14, contravening the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and several human rights bodies, which had concluded he was entitled to a retrial or new sentencing hearing because of due process violations related to his trial, and should not be subjected to the death penalty because of his psychosocial disabilities. [OHCHR Press Release] Mr. Moreno Ramos, a Mexican citizen who had been arrested on suspicion of murder in 1992, was not afforded consular assistance or prompt, effective legal representation. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 1/05, Case 12.430, Roberto Moreno Ramos (United States), 28 January 2005. He is the sixth Mexican national to be executed in defiance of the ICJ’s 2004 judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States) ordering the “review and reconsider[ation]” of convictions and death sentences because of authorities’ failure to respect the rights of Mexican nationals and the Mexican government to consular information and notification. [Mexican Government Press Release]
The United Kingdom announced yesterday its withdrawal of its candidate for a spot on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, allowing Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India to be elected as the sole candidate. [UN News Centre] After ten rounds of voting, another round was due to take place yesterday but was canceled following the announcement. [Guardian] Previous rounds of voting had elected four candidates to take four of the five empty seats on the Court, but as of Monday morning the final open seat remained undecided between Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India and Judge Christopher Greenwood of the United Kingdom. [Washington Post] A candidate must secure a majority of votes in both the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly to win a seat; Judge Bhandari had a majority of votes in the General Assembly, and Judge Greenwood had a majority in the Security Council. [Washington Post] This will be the first time that the United Kingdom is not represented in the composition of the Court. See ICJ, All Members.
The conversation surrounding this election is part of a broader debate on the composition of international courts and whether they are representative of the populations they serve. The GQUAL Campaign has focused on whether courts are representative by gender, and there is increased debate over whether the developing world and Asia are adequately represented on international courts and tribunals. [GQUAL Campaign] One consideration in the election is the tension between the General Assembly and the Security Council, where some members of the General Assembly feel that their voice is not being heard or is being downplayed by the permanent members of the Security Council – China, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, and France. [Times of India; Guardian] Additionally, with Judge Bhandari remaining on the Court, there will be four judges from Asia on the Court, one more than prior to the elections, and one fewer judge representing the western European and other States on the Court. [EJIL: Talk!] See ICJ, All Members. Read more
A new campaign, GQUAL, aims to address the gender imbalance on international courts and human rights bodies, where women make up less than 25% of the existing membership. [GQUAL Press Release] The campaign will work to change the nomination and voting practices of States and the relevant institutions, to ensure that gender balance is a real consideration. Through its website, declaration, petition, events, and informational materials, the campaign is striving to raise awareness, engage civil society voices, and increase the transparency of election processes. Additionally, the GQUAL Jobs Board provides information on recent and upcoming elections for nearly all international tribunals and monitoring bodies. On September 17, 2015, the GQUAL (for “gender equal”) campaign formally launched at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York. [GQUAL Press Release] Read more
November 14 marked the start of the trial against 26 former security agents accused of committing murder, torture, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, assault, and battery during former dictator Hissène Habré’s rule in Chad from 1982 to 1990. [Reuters; HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices] Advocates hope that the trial, set to take place before national courts in N’Djaména, Chad, will deliver a measure of justice to victims of human rights abuses and atrocities committed during Habré’s eight-year rule. [HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices] Read more
The Extraordinary African Chambers, a special criminal court, opened on February 8, 2013 in the West African nation of Senegal to prepare a case against former Chadian president Hissène Habré. [NY Times] Habré has been accused of responsibility for the deaths of more than 40,000 people and the torture of more than 20,000 during his eight-year rule of Chad, from 1982 to 1990.
Habré has yet to be indicted by the Extraordinary African Chambers. However, his prosecution has been sought in connection with the serious human rights abuses committed by his government, which included politically- and ethnically-motivated extrajudicial killings and torture. [HRDAG] In particular, analysts have concluded that Habré was, at minimum, aware that Read more
- Physicians for Human Rights has published a report documenting illegal experimentation and torture by CIA medical personnel in the “war on terror”. The report is available here. Following the paper’s publication, PHR and other organizations filed a formal complaint before the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Human Research Protection against the CIA. [PHR]
- Human Rights Watch kicked off its International Film Festival in New York, which will run until June 24. [HRW]
- Kuwait has drawn international attention over its detention of critical journalist and blogger, Mohammad al-Jasim. [HRW, Reporters Without Borders]
- Venezuela orders arrest of Globovision owner and his son, in connection with an investigation into their car dealerships. [Impunity Watch] Globovision owner Guillermo Zuloaga runs the only remaining private television station with an editorial stance critical of the Chavez government and has previously been the subject of governmental and private harassment as a result. Earlier this year, Zuloaga was arrested by Venezuelan authorities after having made remarks critical of the government at an assembly of the Inter-American Press Association. [CIDH] For more information on freedom of the press in Venezuela, see the Inter-American Commission’s report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela.
- Honduras has withdrawn its application against Brazil before the ICJ, in which it had alleged that Brazil threatened the peace and stability of Honduras by housing ousted President Zelaya in its embassy in Tegucigalpa. [ICJ]
- The Mexican government and Human Rights Watch, among others, are calling for an investigation into the death of a Mexican teenager who was shot by a U.S. border agent from U.S. soil. [HRW, BBC] Another individual was killed by U.S. agents this month on the U.S. side of the border when he was being deported after 20 years in the U.S. as an undocumented worker. [BBC]
- In the case of the disappeared from the Colombian Palace of Justice, former army coronel Alfonso Plazas Vega was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment on Thursday for the enforced disappearance of 11 individuals when the army retook the Palace in November 1985 after it had been seized by guerrillas. President Uribe opined that Plazas should not have been convicted as he was “simply trying to comply with his duty”. [BBC] For many years, official reports had indicated that the disappeared died in the conflict surrounding the army’s retaking of the Palace, but in recent years evidence surfaced showing the now-disappeared leaving the Palace alive. At its most recent session, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on the case (number 10.738) against Colombia, which is pending a combined decision on admissibility and merits by the Commission. (Video of the hearing available here). CEJIL and the Colectivo de Abogados are among the NGOs representing the victims before the IACHR. Colombian judge Maria Stella Jara Gutierrez has been granted precautionary measures by the Commission because of the threats she has received while handling the Palace of Justice case.
- Kyrgyzstan’s interim government extends state of emergency as attacks by Kyrgyz against Uzbeks in southern region continue, causing the displacement of thousands, nearly 100 deaths and over 1,000 injuries. The conflict is reported to be over land and housing and follows the turbulent April overthrow of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The government has authorized its security forces to use lethal force and has sought Russian military intervention. [BBC, AlertNet]
- The IACHR has submitted two cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. One is the case of Dominican opposition leader Narciso González Medina (previously covered on this blog, here) who was forcibly disappeared in 1994 (admissibility report here). The other involves due process violations in the criminal prosecution of Jorge Fernando Grande in Argentina. Read the Commission’s admissibility report in the Grande case here. [IACHR]
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor calls on UN Security Council to secure arrest of suspected Sudanese criminals Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, against whom the ICC issued arrest warrants three years ago. The situation in Darfur, Sudan was referred to the ICC by the Security Council Resolution 1593. [ICC] Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s remarks could raise concerns about the presumption of innocence and duty of public officials not to make pre-trial statements regarding a suspect’s guilt.
- Last week, the lower house of Bolivia’s legislature approved a law which would give indigenous communities the right to autonomously administer their own justice systems in accordance with their customs and values. Although the reach of the new resolution is unclear, the legislature has 180 additional days to specify the areas of competence of the ordinary justice system vis-à-vis community justice systems. [BBC, JURIST]
- Meanwhile, the Argentine legislature’s lower house passed a bill that would authorize same-sex marriage in that country and grant same-sex couples the right to adopt children. Observers say that the bill has a good chance of being approved by the upper legislative house and becoming law. [Impunity Watch, Reuters]
- Freedom House identifies the world’s worst protectors of civil rights and liberties in its Freedom in the World 2010 report as: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. [Huffington Post, Freedom House]
- Human rights organizations call for an investigation into the death of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which the government is suspected to have been involved. [VOA]
- Yesterday, the Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court concluded in Uganda, where an amendment was adopted to include a definition of the crime of aggression and regulate the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction over such crimes. According to the ICC’s press release:
The Conference based the definition of the crime of aggression on United Nations General Assembly resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974, and in this context agreed to qualify as aggression, a crime committed by a political or military leader which, by its character, gravity and scale constituted a manifest violation of the Charter.
As regards the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction, the Conference agreed that a situation in which an act of aggression appeared to have occurred could be referred to the Court by the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, irrespective as to whether it involved States Parties or non-States Parties.
ICJ Finds Uruguay Breached Procedural, but Not Substantive, Obligations in Pulp Mill Case Brought by Argentina
The International Court of Justice announced its judgment in the Case Concerning Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay), in which it held that Uruguay had breached its obligations under the Statute of the River Uruguay to cooperate with Argentina and the Administrative Commission of the River Uruguay, as required prior to the authorization of development projects that could affect the River Uruguay, which runs through both Uruguay and Argentina. Argentina argued, and the ICJ agreed, that Uruguay had failed to notify the Administrative Commission and Argentina before authorizing the construction of two pulp mills on the banks of the River Uruguay.
However, the Court also held that Uruguay had not breached its substantive obligations under the Statute of the River Uruguay, with regard to environmental pollution, by authorizing the construction of the mill. The Court had precluded from its discussion Argentina’s allegations of noise pollution, visual pollution, and offensive odors caused by the mills, as falling outside the scope of the Statute.
The dispute began in 2003 and was brought to the ICJ in 2006. The case has generated diplomatic tension between the two countries and raised the hopes of affected communities that the Court would declare Uruguay responsible for environmental pollution and order the Finnish plant to cease its operations. [Reuters, Yahoo, BBC]