Wednesday 31 October 2007

Director's job, University of Ottawa Human Rights Centre

The University of Ottawa is advertising for a director of its human rights centre. For more information, see:

Law of armed conflict call for papers

The University of the West of England, in Bristol, will host a conference on the regulation of armed conflict by international law, on 3-5 September 2008. The conference themes are broad enough to cover a range of human rights subject areas. PhD students are invited to make submissions. See the call for papers:

Thursday 25 October 2007

Customary law directly applies in Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has clarified the direct application of customary international law within domestic law, in R. v. Hape, issued in June of this year: For a comment on it in the International Legal Materials, see: According to the Court, while Parliament has clear constitutional authority to pass legislation governing conduct by Canadians or non-Canadians outside Canada, its ability to pass extraterritorial legislation is informed by the binding customary principles of territorial sovereign equality and non-intervention, by the comity of nations, and by the limits of international law to the extent that they are not incompatible with domestic law. By virtue of parliamentary sovereignty, it is open to Parliament to enact legislation that is inconsistent with those principles, but in so doing it would violate international law and offend the comity of nations. Since it is a well-established principle of statutory interpretation that legislation will be presumed to conform to international law, in interpreting the scope of application of the Charter, a court should seek to ensure with Canada’s binding obligations under international law where the express words are capable of supporting such a construction.

Saturday 20 October 2007

Another suspect at the ICC in The Hague

On 18 October 2007, the International Criminal Court took custody of Germain Katanga, who is alleged to be a former senior commander of the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri in the North East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Court was acting on an arrest warrant issued on 02 July 2007. As a militia leader, Katanga is charged with planning and carrying out an attack on the village of Bogoro, which he ordered fighters under his command to “wipe out”. According to the Prosecutor, ‘on 24 September 2003, members of Germain Katanga’s militia entered Bogoro village and began an indiscriminate killing spree. At least 200 civilians died. Survivors were imprisoned in a building filled with corpses. Women were abducted and sexually enslaved. The village was pillaged by FRPI militia men.’
This is great news for the Court, which now has two suspects in custody. Although it is operating more slowly than many of us would have liked, the wheels of justice are turning and progress is being made. It wasn't very long ago that some people working for the court were telling me they doubted whether anybody would ever be taken into custody. For more details, see:

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Sane enough to die

One of the fascinating issues in death penalty studies concerns persons who are sentenced to death and who are mentally ill. As a general rule, societies that still retain the death penalty do not execute the insane. But when is someone insane enough that they cannot be executed? And can they be medicated, forcibly, to make them sane enough for exection? These and related issues are discussed by Michael Mello in 'Executing the Mentally Ill: When Is Someone SaneEnough to Die?' (, appearing in the fall2007 issue of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section's Criminal Justice magazine, which has as its them 'The Criminally Mentally Ill'. The entire issue can be accessed at

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Books on PhD studies

Dr Anthony Cullen, who finished his PhD earlier this year, has sent along a list of books that may assist you in preparing your dissertation. I've listed them at the bottom of the blog, and would appreciate suggestions about books to add to the list. Anthony says the book by Sternberg is particularly useful.

Monday 15 October 2007

Customary international humanitarian law

About three years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross published its customary law study. For a summary, see: It has organised a series of seminars on the subject, the most recent being held in Asia. The proceedings are availabe at: The hard copy version can also be ordered, free of charge, from the ICRC Regional Delegation for South Asia in New Delhi.

European Union accession to the European Convention on Human Rights

This is an old subject, but it keeps coming back. Should the EU, as an international organisation, accede to the European Convention on Human Rights? The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europea has just produced a useful collection of documents on the subject:

International Criminal Court and the State

The Human Rights Law Centre and Methods and Data Institute at the University of Nottingham is hosting a multi-disciplinary conference entitled 'The International Criminal Court and the State', to be held on 7 November. Here is the poster and the programme

Genocide denial from the White House

Last week, I posted the remarks about Darfur by former President Jimmy Carter. Taking a position consistent with that of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, not to mention important international NGOs, Carter said it was better to describe the atrocities as crimes against humanity. He was roundly and often quite viciously attacked by neocons in the American media and on the internet, and unfairly accused of trying to pander to the Sudanese regime.
Hardly days had gone by before the neocons indulged in their own brand of denial. When a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide passed a congressional committee, President Bush reacted. Avoiding the word ‘genocide’ Bush said: ‘This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.’ On this, see: The whole business provides a good example of the politicization of the term ‘genocide’, not to mention the hypocrisy of Bush and the neocons.

The crime of aggression and the ICC

Nicolaos Strapatsas, who is completing his PhD at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, has just published an interesting article on the relationship between the crime of aggression and article 25(3) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Article 25(3) governs forms of participation in crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court. The article is a significant contribution not only to the academic literature but also to the ongoing activities of the Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression, which is carrying out the legal debates necessary for the exercise of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. See: Nicolaos Strapatsas, ‘Is Article 25(3) of the ICC Statute Compatible with the “Crime of Aggression”’, (2007) 19 Florida Journal of International Law 155.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Incredibly clement sentences for pro-government militia leaders at Sierra Leone Special Court

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has handed down two very light sentences, of six years and eight years, following the lengthy trial of the CDF leaders. These were pro-government militias but the atrocities they perpetrated were every bit as terrible as those committed by the so-called rebels.
For example, one of the defendants, Fofana, was found guilty for failing to prevent his subordinates from perpetrating such crimes as ‘the gruesome murder of two women in Koribondo who had sticks inserted and forced into their genitals until they cam out of their mouths. The women were then disemboweled, and while their guts were used as checkpoints, parts of their entrails were eaten.’ (para.46) Other crimes for which Fofana was found guilty included his direct participation in murders and other brutality on a large scale, committed against innocent children. Six years!
Kondewa was found guilty, amongst other things, of abducting children of 11 and 13 into the militias, where they were trained to commit crimes of great brutality. Kondewa was also found guilty of personally shooting a town commander. Eight years!
The decisive point seems to be the Chamber’s conclusion that the accused were motivated by a desire to promote democracy in the country, and to restore the elected government which had been overthrown by the rebels.
One of the judges (the one appointed by Sierra Leone, not surprisingly) voted to acquit them altogether. He said that defence of the State was the supreme law, and they were following it. I shudder to think how he might have voted at Nuremberg.
I am not a fan of harsh sentences, but this sounds to me to be rather on the light scale. By comparison, General Strugar, a Serb military leader who failed to stop soldiers from shelling the town of Dubrovnik, resulting in a few civilian deaths, got seven years.
The Trial Chamber wrote: ‘It is out view that a manifestly repressive sentence, rather than providing the deterrent objective which it is meant to achieve, will be counterproductive to the Sierra Leonean society in that it will neither be consonant with nor will it be in the overall interests and ultimate aims and objectives of justice, peace, and reconciliation that this Court is mandated by UN Security Council Resoluton 1315, to achieve.’ (para. 95). But if that is the case, why don’t the rebels also benefit from this same philosophy? Three of the rebels have already been sentenced, to exceedingly long terms of 45 and 50 years in prison. Admittedly, that was by a different Trial Chamber.
The recent sentencing decision is available at:

World Day Against the Death Penalty

Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty. Every year, the number of countries that have abolished capital punishment grows. This year, Rwanda abolished the death penalty. We are awaiting a decision of the Indonesian Constitutional Court on the subject, due on 30 October. Even in the United States, capital punishment is losing steam. It is one of the great human rights issues of our time, and it provides compelling evidence of more or less constant progress in the protection and promotion of human rights.
The EU is presenting a resolution on capital punishment in the General Assembly this year. Previous attempts, in 1994 and 1999, have not been successful. But the evolving pictures suggests that this year things will be different. The resolution will be debated in the Third Committee on 24 October, with a vote in the Third Committee on 12-14 November, followed by a vote in the General Assembly sometime in December.
Here are some of the press releases:

How a society treats its prisoners...

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)published the report on its fourth periodic visit to Ireland which tookplace in October 2006: The report, among other things, claims that many of the State prisons are unsafe and degrading and calls for extensive changes to be made to protect the rights of those in detention. The report also documents a number of incidences of ill-treatment in Garda custody.In response to the report, the government has denied that some prisons are unsafe, however, it has committed itself to an overhaul of standards across the prison service. This report, and its media coverage, highlights the benefit of external scrutiny on internal policy. Let's hope that our new Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan, takes the report's findings and puts them into action. Perhaps he will see to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Torture Convention along the way!
Thanks to Michelle Farrell for submitting this.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Jimmy Carter on labelling the Darfur crisis 'genocide'

On his recent visit to Darfur, Jimmy Carter criticised the Bush and others for insisting on describing the atrocities as genocide. "There is a legal definition of genocide and Darfur does not meet that legal standard," Carter said. "The atrocities were horrible but I don't think it qualifies to be called genocide." He also said, "If you read the law'll see very clearly that it's not genocide and to call it genocide falsely just to exaggerate a horrible situation--I don't think it helps."
"Rwanda was definitely a genocide; what Hitler did to the Jews was; but I don't think it's the case in Darfur," Carter said. "I think Darfur is a crime against humanity, but done on a micro scale. A dozen janjaweed attacking here and there," he said, noting many refugees have survived the violence.
"I don't think the commitment was to exterminate a whole group of people, but to chase them from their water holes and lands, killing them in the process at random," he said. "I think you can call it ethnic cleansing."
He also pledged to hold world powers to their pledge of ending the "crime against humanity."
Carter has been catching a lot of nasty criticism on the internet for this. I think some of his neocon critics may be trying to settle scores with him for his recent book on the Middle East.
Jimmy Carter has got it right here, in my view. Moreover, his recent visit to Sudan, where he pushed past Sudanese officials because they were not allowing him to see things he thought were important shows a man of courage who deserves our respect.

Ahmadinejad on New Yorker cover

One of the cleverest New Yorker covers in many years appeared last week. Entitled 'short stance', here it is, in case you missed it. The cover satirizes the homophobia not only of Iran's distinguished president but also of law enforcement authorities in the liberal city of Minneapolis.

Introduction to the International Criminal Court, 3rd edition

The third edition of my book Introduction to the International Criminal Court is now available from Cambridge University Press ( It consists of 584 pages, and is both much longer and more substantial than the earlier editions. Some of the documents have been eliminated (they are easily available on line), and replaced with more text. The third edition takes into account case law of the Court up to the beginning of 2007.

Hommage à Katia Boustany

In January 2004, a dear colleague of mine, Katia Boustany, passed away at a very young age. We had begun our careers together at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Last Friday, in Montréal, friends and colleagues of Katia launched a special issue of the Revue québécoise de droit international to pay hommage to Katia. The issue, along with other back issues of the Revue, is available at My contribution to the special issue deals with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Don't ask!

You can get this 'hoodie' saying 'Don't ask me about my thesis' on the internet: They also have everything from mousepads to thongs and boxer shorters with the same message.

Monday 8 October 2007

Muslim World Journal of Human Rights

The Muslim World Journal of Human Rights ( contains an article by Barb Rieffer-Flanagan, entitled "Improving Democracy in Religious Nation-States: Norms of Moderation and Cooperation in Ireland and Iran" ( Barb did an internship at the Irish Centre for Human Rights several years ago.
Other material of interest includes:
Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, "Restrictions in Freedom of Religion in Malaysia: A Conceptual Analysis with Special Reference to the Law of Apostasy" (
Amani Hamdan "The Issue of Hijab in France: Reflections and Analysis" (

Lethal injection

Only a few days ago, the United States Supreme Court gave leave to appeal with respect to the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution. The Court has only rarely dealt with method of execution and the last ruling on the subject dates back, I think, to the 19th century. This issue has the potential to knock out the death penalty in the United States entirely. Amnesty International has just issued a very useful document on the subject of lethal injection:

Benefits of scientific progress

In June 2007, the Irish Centre for Human Rights, together with the Amsterdam Centre for International Law (University of Amsterdam) and UNESCO, held a conference on the right to benefit from scientific progress, which is set out in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Here is the final report of the meeting:

Monkey business at the Cambodian Chambers

The UN has just issued a report criticizing hiring practices and governance aspects at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia. The recommendation that all hiring to date be nullified is rather startling. See:;
It reminds me of the early days at the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when we had a lot of rather mysterious happenings around the hiring of senior personnel. The UN had to move in and appoint a trustee at on epoint.

Humanitarian Norms Conference: Call for papers

Our colleagues at the Minerva Centre of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, are organising a conference on humanitarian law to take place next June. They have just issued a call for papers:

Health and human rights

This job opening may interest some of you:

Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia

Professor David Scheffer of Northwestern University has set up a website on the Cambodian trials:

Letters of reference

I have prepared some notes on letters of reference. They are at the bottom of this page. I hope to add other posts of a practical nature . Any suggestions about what might be useful would be appreciated.

Ways to Shorten the Ascent to a PhD

Last Wednesday's New York Times had an interesting article on how to shorten the length of PhD studies: