Friday 21 December 2007

Boyce v. Barbados: Victory at Interamerican Court of Human Rights

I couldn't find the recent judgment of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights in Boyce v. Barbados on the official website, but Saul Lehrfreund and Parvais Jabbar, the London-based solicitors of the Death Penalty Project who took the case, have sent it along: The Court found that the mandatory death sentence imposed on all those convicted of murder in Barbados violates the right to life as it is arbitrary and fails to limit the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes. The Court also held that the prison conditions endured by the applicants constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Keir Starmer QC of Doughty Street Chambers, who argued the case earlier this year, said: 'This case has silenced the whispering of some states around the world which, in their attempt to cling onto the cruel punishment of the mandatory death sentence, suggest that their legal systems are different and fairer than others. Barbados has repeatedly emphasised its commitment to international law. Now is the time to demonstrate that commitment by abolishing the mandatory death penalty as required by this landmark judgment,'

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Great Day in General Assembly: Death Penalty Moratorium Passes by 104 Votes

Yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the death penalty moratorium resolution by a vote of 104 in favour, 54 against and 29 abstentions. This is a slight increase from the 99 who voted in favour when the resolution was adopted by the Third Committee of the General Assembly last month. Adoption of the resolution was praised by the new Secretary-General, who had stumbled at the beginning of the year with some rather ignorant remarks about the Saddam Hussein resolution. Now he’s got it right, and so does a comfortable majority of the General Assembly. The text of the resolution: For the press release, indicating elements of the debate:

Failure to Prosecute Crimes Against Palestinian Civilians

Israeli Defence Force statistics, provided to human rights NGO Yesh Din at the organization's demand, on results of Military Police investigations of criminal offenses in which IDF soldiers harmed Palestinians and their property since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000 until June 2007, show that some 90 percent of these investigation files were closed with no indictment. Over nearly seven years 1,091 criminal investigations were opened following offenses which include killing and injury of civilians, abuse, damages to property and others. These investigations resulted in 118 indictments only, of which 101 led to convictions of the accused. The data also show that out of the 239 investigations on killing and injury of Palestinian civilians not involved in the hostilities, only 16 resulted in convictions: less than 7 percent of the investigations on this matter.
More detailed information appears on the five-page data sheet prepared by Yesh Din:
Thanks for this to Lior Yavne of Yesh Din, who is a regular reader of the blog.

Friday 14 December 2007

Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Much recent attention has been devoted to the relationship between human rights law and what is variously called the law of war, the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law. Traditionally, international humanitarian law declines taking a position on the lawfulness of any given war, so as to better address the behaviour of combatants on all sides. Many now suggest that human rights law adopt the same approach. Some recent examples are the refusal of the big human rights NGOs, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, to take a position on the definition of the crime of aggression in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (see, e.g.,
My opinion is that this is all wrong, because it entirely overlooks the right to peace. One of the four freedoms first proclaimed by President Roosevelt and affirmed in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 'freedom from fear'. Admittedly, the right to peace has been much neglected. But we can see manifestations of it in, for example, the obligation to prohibit propaganda for war set out in article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Aggressive war is a human rights issue.
My views on this are developed in a recent article, ‘Lex specialis? Belt and Suspenders? The Parallel Operation of Human Rights Law and the Law of Armed Conflict, and the Conundrum of jus ad bellum’, (2007) 40 Israel Law Review 592-613:

Local Relevance of Humanitarian Law: Call for Papers

Dr Shane Darcy, one of our graduates and now a lecturer at the Transitional Justice Institute of the University of Ulster at Derry, is organising a panel on the local relevance of international humanitarian law for an interdisciplinary conference to be held in Antwerp, 16-18 October 2008, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Shane says that in times of armed conflict, international humanitarian law may play a more significant role than human rights in the protection of the human person. There is considerable scope for its use at the local level, particularly given the increased focus on the prosecution of violations of such laws by the various international criminal tribunals. The contribution of each workshop participant should focus on a specific country or situation of armed conflict to which international humanitarian law applies; illustrative case studies include Colombia, India, Sri Lanka, Iraq (UK & US), Israel/Palestine, Chechnya, and Northern Ireland.
Submit abstracts to Shane at: Once an abstract is accepted, a full draft paper (max. 10.000 words footnotes incl.) should be submitted by Monday September 1 2008.
For further details about the conference please visit:

New Jersey to Abolish Death Penalty

Yesterday, legislators in New Jersey vote to abolish capital punishment. The governor has said he will sign the legislation within a week. New Jersey becomes the first jurisdiction in the United States to abolish capital punishment in more than forty years. This is further evidence of the international trend, evidence of a trend within the United States, and another small but meaningful step towards universal abolition:
Thanks to Megan Fairlie for sending this one.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Louise Arbour Praises Rwanda's Abolition of Death Penalty in Speech to Human Rights Council

Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has lauded the abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda. Along with Gabon, which also recently decided to ban the practice, Rwanda joins 'the vast majority of UN Member States that have already done so', she said. See: For her full speech to the Human Rights Council, see:
Thanks to Maria Varaki for drawing this to my attention

House of Lords Opens Door to Accountability of UK for Abuses in Iraq

The House of Lords has held, in a case concerning an individual detained by British forces in Basra, that the UK is responsible for such detention, and not the UN, as the British government had argued.
The House of Lords also considered the UK argument whereby when the Security Council acts under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and authorises an action through the phrase 'all necessary means', that this automatically means that a state can override all pre-existing international obligations that conflict with that authorisation. The House of Lords overturned Lord Justice Brooke of the Court of Appeal on this point.
While accepting that in some circumstances a Chapter VII authorisation can override human rights obligations, the Law Lords emphasise the very limited nature of this authorisation. Lord Bingham held that the UK 'must ensure that the detainee’s rights under Article 5 [European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right not to be held without due process] are not infringed to any greater extent than is inherent in such detention' (para 39). Baroness Hale went even further in emphasising that Mr Al-Jedda’s right not to be detained without due process had been 'qualified but not displaced' and that: 'The right is qualified only to the extent required or authorised by the resolution. What remains of it thereafter must be observed. This may have both substantive and procedural consequences' (para 126).
Whether or not Mr Al-Jedda can continue to be held without trial depends now on a further hearing to take place in the High Court early next year. Lawyers for Al-Jedda will challenge the intelligence that forms the basis of the decision of the UK Government that he continues to pose such a threat to peace and security in Iraq that it is absolutely necessary that he be detained there, rather than brought back to the UK and dealt with here.
In late August 2007, Al-Jedda’s lawyers in a different action obtained an order from the Court of Appeal that he could not be released or transferred from the jurisdiction of the UK Government without proper written notice to his lawyers. This would allow time for an urgent application to protect him from the risk of torture if he is handed over to the Iraqi authorities.
The ruling is available at:
Thanks to Andrea Breslin, a doctoral student at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, who is currently completing an internship with Phil Shiner and Public Interest Solicitors, who act for Al-Jedda.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

ICTY Judgment on 'Terror'

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has a very interesting discussion of 'terror' as a violation of the laws or customs of war in the Trial Chamber judgment in Dragomir Milosevic, issued earlier today:

It constitutes an interesting development on the only other discussion of this issue, in the Galic Trial Judgment 'terror' was defined merely as 'extreme fear'. Both cases concerned the siege of Sarajevo. It appears that the Trial Chamber did not pick up on the call by the Appeals Chamber, in the recent 'Media Trial' (see yesterday's blog) to apply strict construction in criminal law.

Thanks to Joseph Powderly for this.

Extraordinary Rendition and Ireland's Human Rights Obligations

The Irish Human Rights Commission has just released its report on extraordinary rendition and Ireland's human rights obligations was published yesterday. It includes material obtained by the Commission from the Department of Foreign Affairs on diplomatic assurances provided by the United States. See:
Thanks for this to Aisling O'Sullivan.

French law journals on line

Our university library now has a number of French-language journals in law, the humanities and the social sciences on line. These can be accessed through the NUI Galway library website. Among them,
Revue internationale de droit économique
Revue internationale de droit pénal
Revue sur le droit et la politique de la concurrence

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Saoranach Eireannach

On 10 December I swore an oath of loyalty to the Irish State before Judge Mary Fahy of the Galway District Court, a condition of becoming a Saoranach Eireannach (Irish citizen, which literally translates as Irish freeman) . That evening, many of my PhD students as well as friends and colleagues joined me at Neachtain's pub in the centre of Galway for a little celebration.

Left photo: John Waddell (l), Morwena Denis, Sally Coyle, Philip Fogarty.
Right photo: Katrina Mansson, Katrin Kinzelbach, Sean Goggin, Kjell Anderson and Niamh Hayes.

Left photo: Jane O'Leary with fiddler.
Right photo: Aisling O'Sullivan (l), Michelle Farrell and Maria Varaki.

Left photo: Tom Kenny(l) and John Waddell.
Right photo: Tom O'Malley (l), Morwena Denis and myself.

Left photo: Tom Kenny (l), myself and John Waddell
Right photo: Jane Conroy (l), John Hinde and Pat O'Leary

Kathie Hinde (l), Jane Conroy and John Hinde. And in the background, Katrina Mansson, Katrin Kinzelbach and Sean Goggin.

Appeals Judgment in the 'Media Case'

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued its judgment in the 'Media Case' last week. We discussed this in our regular doctoral seminar in Galway yesterday evening. The judgment of the Appeals Chamber is only available in French right now, although an English-language summary appears on the website:
The Trial Chamber judgment, whose conclusions are seriously attacked in the latest ruling, had been heralded as a new development in the legal regulation of hate speech. The trial deals with personalities involved in the RTLM radio station and the journal Kangura.
Here are a few initial observations that emerged from our discussion:
1. Strict construction. Both ad hoc tribunals have been characterised by an interpretative approach that was large and liberal, tending to expand the definition of crimes so as to fulfil the purpose of the tribunals rather than interpretation that was strict and literal. But now, for the first time apparently, the Appeals Chamber professes its devotion to the principle of strict construction of criminal law.
2. The judgment strikes down many of the charges that had been upheld by the Trial Chamber. In effect, it knocks out the convictions respecting events prior to 6 April 1994, when the genocidal massacre began. With respect to pre-1994 acts, the argument is jurisdictional: the Tribunal cannot prosecute crimes committed prior to 1994, even 'continuous crimes'. Judge Shahabbuddeen dissents on this point. But as for events between 1 January 1994 and 6 April 1994, the Chamber simply considers these do not add up to incitement to genocide. This may effect a significant change in the narrative of the Rwandan genocide.
3. One of the big innovations of the Trial Chamber was to treat hate propaganda, even when it falls short of incitement to genocide, as the crime against humanity of persecution. The Appeals Chamber upholds this as a general proposition. Judge Meron writes a strong dissent, arguing that expanding the prosecution of hate speech threatens freedom of expression.

No Death Penalty for Drug Crimes

Yesterday, the International Harm Reduction Association published a report entitled 'The Death Penalty for Drug Offences - A Violation of International Human Rights Law': .

The author, Rick Lines, is a graduate of our LLM programme and is currently enrolled in PhD studies at the Irish Centre for Human Rights.

The report examines the use of the death penalty for drug offences and considers whether drug crimes constitute 'most serious crimes' within the context of article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report argues that drug crimes do not constitute 'most serious crimes' and concludes that the execution of drug offenders violates international human rights law.

Monday 10 December 2007

Three successful vivas

Three of our doctoral students successfully defended their PhD theses over the past few days. On 8 December, Hitomi Takemura defended her thesis on ‘The International Human Right to Conscientious Objection to Military Service and Individual Duties to Disobey Manifestly Illegal Orders', before a jury composed of Prof. Kevin Boyle, Dr. Vinodh Jaichand and myself. A real innovation was the fact that the defence was held at the Irish Cultural Centre, in Paris (see photo). We had all attended the conference in Paris the previous day on 'Diplomacy and Human Rights' co-sponsored by the Irish Cultural Centre, the Irish Centre for Human Rights, and the Centre for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law of the Université de Paris II.
The following day, on 9 December, this time in Galway, Carlo Tiribelli successfully defended his thesis on ‘Surrender, Not Extradition: Transferring Offenders in a New International Context’, before a jury composed of Prof. Alexander Knoops, Dr. Ray Murphy and myself. And today, Noelle Higgins defended her thesis on ‘Regulating the Use of Force in Wars of National Liberation, the Need for a New Regime: A Study of the South Moluccas and Aceh', before Prof. Nigel White, Dr. Ray Murphy and myself.
Congratulations to the three of you. All three have busy careers in the area of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Noelle and Hitomi are university lecturers, and Carlo is a practising lawyer in Brussels.

Socio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference

Two of our PhD students, Eadaoin O'Brien and Michelle Farrell, are organising a stream at the Socio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference, 18-20 March 2008. Sponsored by the Irish Centre for Human Rights, the theme is 'victims in international law'.
The stream particularly welomes papers with an interdisciplinary approachto the understanding of victims within international law. In light of the acknowledged role of the victim in proceedings before theInternational Criminal Court, and considering the active participation of indigenous peoples in drafting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, this stream seeks to further explore the emerging centrality ofvictims in all facets of the international legal process.
The stream also encourages critical scholarship on the conceptualisationof the 'victim' in international law.
Themes addressing the following issues are particulary welcomed:
The Role of the Victim in International Criminal Justice
The Role of the Victim in developing International Law
Does the law speak to Victims?
Issues pertaining to the deceased in International Law
Gross Violations of International Law and Justice

The abstract should not exceed 400 words and the deadline for abstract submission is 5pm, 25 January 2008.

Contact and Abstract submissions to:
Michelle Farrell -
Eadaoin O' Brien -

Full details on all aspects of the conference can be found at

Monday 3 December 2007

Swansong of Carla del Ponte

Carla del Ponte finishes her term as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the end of 2007. She has been appointed the Ambassador to Argentina of Switzerland. Her successor is Serge Brammertz of Belgium, who had previously been elected one of the Deputy Prosecutors of the International Criminal Court, but has since been seconded to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Del Ponte took over from Louise Arbour in September 1999, and her mandate was renewed (but not for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) in September 2003. Ed Vulliamy of The Observer published an interview with her yesterday:,,331427677-103645,00.html. Also of interest is a new book by Florence Hartmann, entitled Paix et Châtiment. Hartmann was del Ponte's press attache, and much of the book seems to be about the Tribunal through the eyes of del Ponte. Hartmann is very bitter about many aspects of the Tribunal, including the reluctance of many members of the prosecution staff to charge Milosevic with genocide.
The Observer also has a lengthy account of efforts to apprehend one of the outstanding fugitives of the tribunal, Radovan Karadzic:,,331427513-103645,00.html;,,331427512-103645,00.html ;,,331427515-103645,00.html;,,331427680-103645,00.html
Thanks to Niamh Hayes.

Friday 30 November 2007

The Prohibition of Propaganda for War in International Law

Dr Michael G. Kearney has just published The Prohibition of Propaganda for War in International Law with Oxford University Press. At a time when the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court is about to undertake a serious debate on the definition of the crime of aggression in the Rome Statute, it provides a very helpful reminder of the anti-war content in international human rights law. There are some in the international human rights community who prefer to avoid the discussion on the grounds that this is so-called jus ad bellum, but Michael Kearney has the better view. Dr Kearney's study addresses a long-neglected but important provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The manuscript is based on Dr Kearney's thesis at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Michael Kearney also completed an LLM in international human rights at the Irish Centre. Judge Richard Goldstone, who was the external examiner for the thesis, has written the book's preface. Michael Kearney is now a lecturer at University of York, in the United Kingdom. For more information on the book:

Thursday 29 November 2007

Research associate position

Reykjavik University School of Law invites applications for a Research Associate position starting 1 February 2008 for a period of 36 months. The research project, funded by the European Commission under its 7th Framework Programme, deals with the Impact of International Criminal Procedures on Domestic Criminal Procedures in Mass Atrocity Cases. Applicants must hold an advanced university degree in law, preferably with specialization in public international and/or international criminal law. Applications should be sent by email to Thordis Ingadottir ( and should include a CV, a list of contacts for references and other relevant information. Copies of two publications and/or papers should also be included in the application. Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Thordis Ingadottir for further information.

Diplomacy and human rights

On Friday 7 December, the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris will host a conference on 'Human Rights Diplomacy', cosponsored by the Irish Centre for Human Rights and the Human Rights Centre at the University of Paris II. For more information: The Irish Cultural Centre is a lovely building, now restored to its former glory (it was previously the Irish College), Paris is beautiful anytime, and we have a great lineup of speakers.

The slowest international criminal tribunal?

Does the pace of the International Criminal Court justify the charge that it is the slowest international criminal tribunal in history?
Earlier this month, the Trial Chamber in the Lubanga case announced that the trial will begin on 31 March 2008. It is the first case at the International Criminal Court to come to trial. Lubanga first appeared before the Court on 20 March 2006, after being transferred from the Democratic Republic of Congo where he had already been in detention for some time. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 741 days.
How does this compare with the other international criminal tribunals? The first trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, of Dusko Tadic, began on 7 May 1996. Tadic was arrested in Germany in February 1994, but proceedings before the International Tribunal only began on 12 October 1994. His initial appearance in the Hague took place on 26 April 1995. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 376 days.
The first trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, of Jean-Paul Akayesu, began on 9 January 1997. Akayesu had been arrested in Zambia on 10 October 1995, he was indicted on 13 February 1996, and he first appeared in Arusha before the Tribunal on 26 May 1996. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 225 days.
The first trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone began on 3 June 2004. The accused were arrested on or about 7 March 2003, and appeared in Court shortly afterward for the first time. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 453 days.
To recapitulate: ICC: 741; ICTY: 376; ICTR: 225; SCSL: 453.
To be fair to the ICC, it is burdened with an additional procedural step, the ‘confirmation hearing’, which is provided for by article 61 of the Rome Statute. But that hearing ended on 28 November 2006 (the decision wasn’t delivered until late January). By 31 March 2008, when the Lubanga trial begins, it will be 487 days since the end of the ‘confirmation hearing’, which is still longer than any of the other tribunals has taken from initial appearance to start of trial.
The ‘confirmation hearing’ looks to be an unnecessary and superfluous business that adds little or nothing to the proceedings, except additional cost and delay. Perhaps the Review Conference, in 2010, will see fit to abolish it. But even when we factor in the delay for the ‘confirmation hearing’, the ICC stills takes the cake as the slowest international criminal tribunal in history.
As a general observation, modern international criminal trials take much too long. One might have hoped that the International Criminal Court would be trying to correct this weakness in the system. But right now it looks as if the problem is getting worse, not better.

Progress report on the International Criminal Court

The Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court will begin its session in New York City at the end of the week. A few days ago, I delivered the Read Memorial Lecture at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, on current developments at the International Criminal Court. I would describe the assessment as positive, but critical:

Cases and materials

This is a 450-page book of cases and materials in international criminal law that I have prepared for teaching purposes. It is a work in progress, and I will be adding new material to it from time to time. Feel free to use the material. Here is the current version, in three pdf files:;;

Sunday 25 November 2007

November Bulletin of Irish Centre for Human Rights

The latest bulletin of the Irish Centre for Human Rights is available:
Please circulate this far and wide.

Thursday 22 November 2007

Nottingham student human rights conference

Many of our students have participated in the past at the Annual Student Human Rights Conference, convened by the Human Rights Law Centre, University of Nottingham. This year's conference is titled ‘International Human Rights and the Environment’ and aims to stimulate multi-disciplinary dialogue on an issue that both links and divides North from South, rich to poor, to discover the synergy between the two issues. The deadline for the submission of papers is Monday 7 January 2008. See:

Council of Europe blasts Canada for death penalty stance

A short time ago, I reported on Canada's rightward shift on the subject of capital punishment, and Louise Arbour's public criticism of the new stance.
Now, according to the Ottawa Citizen (21 November 2007), the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Terry Davies has likened the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who "washed his hands" of the decision to crucify Jesus Christ because a mob demanded Christ's execution. Davies said Canada is effectively 'subcontracting' the death penalty, just as the US government has dispatched suspected terrorists to Third World countries, where they can be interrogated under torture.
He urged the federal government to press US authorities to return Albertan Ronald Smith, the murderer at the centre of the controversy, from his Montana prison cell to serve the rest of his life behind bars in Canada.
'I'm very disappointed to learn that the Canadian government is not taking some action to get this man returned to Canada, where he should serve a life sentence. We certainly don't want a man like that walking the streets', Mr. Davies said. 'But to execute him is degrading. It's reducing authorities to the same level as people who kill people. Killing people is wrong. And the European view is we won't get down in the gutter with the people who commit murders. I'm just amazed that the Canadian government would wash its hands, just like Pontius Pilate.'

Funny blackout in China

It has been several days since I logged on to the blog. I have been in China since Saturday, where I was unable to get access to my blog. I can't be sure that the Chinese authorities have blacked it out. Should I be suspicious? Should I be flattered?
The photo is of a lecture I delivered on capital punishment at the Beijing Normal University.

Saturday 17 November 2007

United Nations Security Council and European Union blacklists

Dick Marty, rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, has issued a report calling for targeted sanctions against individuals or specific groups (“blacklists”) in preference to general sanctions imposed on states. It says the latter often have dire consequences for vulnerable population groups whilst targeted sanctions such as travel restrictions and freezing of assets hurt only those found personally responsible. But targeted sanctions must respect minimum standards of procedural protection and legal certainty, says the report. The procedures currently in use at the UN and at the EU fall far short of these standards:

Friday 16 November 2007

Right to education in religious schools

Niamh Hayes, one of our PhD students, has published an article in the Law Society Gazette on the subject of the right to education in religious schools: Niamh is researching a thesis on the presumption of innocence, and is also working on the Oxford Reports on International Criminal Law project at the Irish Centre for Human Rights.

Thursday 15 November 2007

VICTORY in the UN on death penalty

About an hour ago, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty with the ultimate goal of eventually abolishing the practice despite fierce opposition from several members: The vote was 99 in favour, 52 against and 33 abstentions. The resolution will proceed to the General Assembly, in December, but given the result of the vote it is almost certain to be confirmed.
The resolution states that the death penalty 'undermines human dignity' and calls on all states which still maintain the death penalty 'to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty'. It also urges them 'to restrict its use and reduce the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed' and to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the protection of those facing execution.
For the past two days, a group of states (such as Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt, Barbados, Iran) who remain enthusiastic about capital punishment have tried to stop the resolution with some 15 so-called 'wrecking amendments'. Often using coded language or raising extraneous issues, they unsuccessfully attempted to split what is obviously a growing majority within the United Nations favouring abolition of the death penalty. For example, Egypt, supported by several Islamic countries and the United States, sought to insert a paragraph in the resolution upholding the right to protect the unborn child.
Today, some 133 countries of the 192 United Nations membership have abolished capital punishment in law and practice. Adoption of this important resolution is an historic stage towards total abolition. It is a great victory for the human rights movement.

Monday 12 November 2007

The Genocide Convention by Nehemiah Robinson

In 1960, Nehemiah Robinson published The Genocide Convention, a somewhat modified version of a monograph that he had first issued in 1949. It is one of the first works on the subject. The World Jewish Congress, which apparently holds the copyright, has authorised distribution of a pdf version the book:
With thanks to Don Ferencz, who organised this.

Recent publications by PhD students

Two of our PhD students have just sent along recent articles they have published, and that are of great interest. See: Roja Fazaeli, ‘Contemporary Iranian Feminism: Identity, Rights and Interpretations’, (2007) 4 Muslim World Journal of Human Rights (online journal), at; Katarina Månsson, ‘Reviving the "Spirit of San Francisco": The Lost Proposals on Human Rights, Justice and International Law to the UN Charter’, (2007) 76 Nordic Journal of International Law 217–239, Congratulations to both of you.

Defence work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

One of our former students, Deirdre Montgomery, who has been working at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since finishing her LLM at the Irish Centre for Human Rights more than two years ago, writes with news of employment opportunities in defence work. First, see:
Also, the Praljak defence team in Prosecutor v. Prlic et al is seeking a legal assistant. Please forward applications, including a cover letter and a CV, as soon as possible to Bozidar Kovacic- and Krystyna Grinberg- . Any enquiries can be emailed to Krystyna Grinberg.
Finally, Deirdre notes that the Association of Defence Counsel runs an internship programme for those interested in working for defence teams. Anyone interested in an internship can visit or email mo' for further information.

Dag Hammarskjöld and the fine arts

Katarina Månsson sends along some fascinating recent material on Dag Hammarskjöld: Hammarskjöld was the second Secretary General of the United Nations. There is a very nice tribute by Kofi Annan, and several interesting essays on Hammarskjöld’s engagement with the fine arts

Sunday 11 November 2007

Terrorism: Dick Marty questions fairness of UN Security Council and EU blacklists


Transnational and Non-state Armed Groups: Legal and Policy Responses

A new report entitled, "Empowered Groups, Tested Laws and Policy Options", examines and expands on themes addressed during the March 2007 Seminar on Transnational and Non-State Actors. Such themes include Armed Conflict and Change, Laws of War and New Actors, and Strategic Responses and International Security. It has been prepared in the context of the multidisciplinary project “Transnational and Non-state Armed Groups: Legal and Policy Responses."
The report is online, accessible at the portal on Transnational and Non-State Armed Groups, at

Saturday 10 November 2007

Louise Arbour takes Canada to task for reversal of its stance on capital punishment

Louise Arbour made a statement yesterday criticising a change in Canada's foreign policy with respect to capital punishment. Recently, Canada indicated that it would not campaign against the death penalty when it is imposed on Canadian nationals in, for example, the United States. Several years ago, Texas executed a Canadian national - Stanley Faulder - who had not been informed of his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, in violation of the treaty (as the International Court of Justice has confirmed in the LaGrand and Avena cases). At the time, Canada's government worked hard to prevent the execution. But Ottawa has changed. To add to this, the Canadian government has decided not to co-sponsor the resolution on capital punishment now working its way through the General Assembly. Louise Arbour also took issue with that shift in Canadian policy. See her statement:
Fortunately, even if some of the neo-cons in Ottawa are nostalgic for the noose, it will be pretty hard for them to set the clock back. In November 2005, Irwin Cotler, who was then Minister of Justice, pushed through Canadian accession to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada is bound, as a matter of international law, not to impose the death penalty, and not to reinstate it, and not to cooperate in its imposition in any way. As far as domestic law is concerned, the Supreme Court of Canada made it very clear in the Burns and Rafay case, in 2001, that the Canadian constitution forbids capital punishment ( Irwin Cotler and I were counsel for Amnesty International in that case. We submitted an amicus curiae brief. And guess who was one of the members of the Supreme Court of Canada when it issued the important ruling: Louise Arbour. She resigned from the Court in 2003 to take up her current job as High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Bravo Louise. Bravo Irwin. Shame on Canada.

Child soldiers at Guantanamo

Prof. David Crane, the first prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (and a regular visitor to the Irish Centre for Human Rights), has published a fine article on child soldiers in today's International Herald Tribune: David makes the link between the phenomenon of child soldiers, his own rich experience in Sierra Leone, and the pending trial of Omar Khadr at Guantanamo. Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen and has been detained at Guantanamo for five years. He was captured at the age of 15 in Afghanistan. He is represented by a very determined and competent US military lawyer, whom I had the pleasure to meet last month at the annual meeting of the Canadian Council of International Law, in Ottawa. Unfortunately, the Canadian government, which has taken a rather conservative turn, is not doing all it could to help Omar Khadr. The British and Australians, for example, have insisted on their own nationals at Guantanamo being repatriated. Fortunately, authoritative voices like that of David Crane are arguing that the trial should no be taking place, and that a 15-year-old combatant should be treated as a victim, not a perpetrator.

Friday 9 November 2007

Professor Takemura

One of my PhD students, Hitomi Takemura, has just signed a contract to be an assistant professor in international law at Kyushu International University, in Japan. Congratulations, Hitomi. She is almost finished her thesis, which is on conscientious objection and refusal of superior orders, with a defence scheduled for December.
We awarded the first PhD at the Irish Centre for Human Rights three years ago. By my count, nine of our PhDs are now employed as lecturers at universities, in Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, the US, and now Japan. The PhD is the degree par excellence for an academic career, and we are thrilled by the success of our students in finding teaching appointments. Other PhD graduates have found work as researchers at universities and think tanks, with NGOs, with international tribunals and with law firms.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Amicus curiae

An amicus curiae is a 'friend of the court'. The concept is related to, although possibly distinct from, the 'intervenor'. I think that an 'intervenor' argues for a position, and participates in the proceedings as a form of advocacy. The amicus curiae has a role that is perhaps more neutral, informing the court basaed upon expertise.
A recent development of some interest is the evolving practice of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in this area. Over the last few years, she has intervened in four cases, and more such initiatives can be expected in the future. The first intervention, I think, was before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a matter of direct concern to her, namely, the compellability of a former official of the Office of the High Commissioner. Subsequently, she has intervened as amicus before the International Criminal Court, providing expertise on whether or not investigations could be conducted in Darfur. Her views were somewhat at odds with those of the Prosecutor, and he reacted to them somewhat negatively. She has intervened before the United States Supreme Court in a case concerning extraterritorial application of human rights norms, and before the Iraqi Tribunal in opposition to use of the death penalty.
The practice of intervention before the European Court of Human Rights is well established. A couple of zears ago, the Irish Centre for Human Rights submitted an amicus brief to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. The judgment referred to our brief.
The various international criminal tribunals regularly receive amicus briefs. Most of them cross the line into advocacy, in my opinion.
I am currently in Geneva and checked with the human rights treaty bodies. They, apparently, have never authorised amicus briefs with respect to human rights petitions, although some have been submitted in the past by human rights NGOs.
This is a great subject for an article, and perhaps even a thesis.

Monday 5 November 2007

Apple Corps' new products

For a little entertainment on a grim subject, see:

Amnesty slide show on capital punishment

A slide show, and many other very useful materials on capital punishment, is available on the Amnesty International website:

Sunday 4 November 2007

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:

Saturday 29 September 2007

Defense of superior orders

Article 33 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court says that following orders is no defense when the order is 'manifestly unlawful'. When we teach this, we generally look for hypothetical examples, or cases drawn from the movies. The war in Iraq has given us a real case. Soldier Evan Vela, a US sniper, told a court on Thursday of how an unarmed Iraqi stumbled upon a sniper's den. He was ordered by his commanding officer to kill the Iraqi. It looks like a pretty classic case of a 'manifestly unlawful' order. There are several news reports. This one was in the International Herald Tribune:

Is this a war crime?

Evidence has emerged of what the US military calls a 'baiting programme', by which traps are set for 'insurgents'. When they take the bait, snipers lie in wait and kill them. This was revealed in recent litigation within the US, as defense lawyers tried to respond to murder charges which hae been laid against army snipers. The soldiers are accused of having killed unarmed Iraqis. The details are reported in last week's New York Times, Paul von Zielbauer, 'Snipers Killed Iarqis Who Took "Bait", Soldiers Tesitfy', 25 September 2007, NYT, p. A13:

Grotian Moment

Last year, Michael Scharf developed a very successful blog on the Saddam Hussein trial. He has now reconfigured it into a more general blog in international criminal justice. It was launched yesterday.

Defense Counsel at Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Rupert Skilbank, who is coordinating the defense counsel at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia as Principal Defender of the Defense Support Unit, has put out a call for defense counsel and for 'Legal consultants'. A legal consultant need not qualify for the bar, but requires five years of experience in the area of international criminal law. I have not queried Rupert on this, but post-graduate study in international criminal law, coupled with relevant internships, might respond to this requirement. This looks like a great opportunity for someone anxious to embark upon a career in international criminal law. Rupert says you can check out the website (, or simply write him directly:

Thursday 27 September 2007

Miskolc Journal of International Law

A new issue of the Miskolc Journal of International Law is available at It includes the following:
the following articles:
Veronika Bílková: Victims of War and Their Right to Reparation for Violations of International Humanitarian Law
Enver Hasani: The Evolution of the Succession Process in Former Yugoslavia
Victor Muraviov: The Acquis Communautaire as a Basis for the Community Legal Order
Csaba Pakozdy: The power of state versus freedom of assembly

Please note that Peter Kovacs, who is editor in chief of the Journal, has also published in that number his own personal tribute to Alex Kiss, who passed away a few months ago. Professor Kiss, who was of Hungarian origin, lived and worked in Strasbourg where he was closely associated with the International Institute for Human Rights over the years. He and I worked together recently as co-editors of the Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, whose overall editor was Dinah Shelton. We will miss him dearly.

Monday 24 September 2007

Raphael Lemkin, Originator of the term 'genocide'

Raphael Lemkin first used the word 'genocide' in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944. He was one of three experts who prepared the first draft of the Genocide Convention at the request of the United Nations Secretariat. Lemkin died in 1959, apparently in poverty.

Today is a beautiful early autumn day in New York City. This morning, Don Ferencz and I drove out to Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, and paid hommage at Lemkin's grave. Don said an old Jewish prayer that was inspired by an early genocide, when Crusaders wiped out an Ashkenazi community. We both placed small stones on the grave, following the Jewish tradition.
The tombstone is of modest proportions, and sits among several others bearing the name Lemkin, as this is a family plot. There is some writing in Hebrew at the top. Don thinks it is Lemkin's name. The rest of the inscription reads: 'Beloved Brother and Uncle. Dr. Raphael Lemkin. 1900-1959. Father of the Genocide Convention.'

The Cemetery is about mid-way between New York's two airports. From Lemkin's grave you can see the site of the 1961 World's Fair.


My students all know about my obsession with proper use of the apostrophe, a result, I think, of its terrible misuse by so many (not all) of them. I enjoyed reading William Safire in yesterday's New York Times magazine (p. 18) on the subject (he too is OCD on this):


“Yesterday, I picked up a pamphlet that proclaimed ‘Starbucks commitment to social responsibility,’ ” writes Prof. Henry Richardson of Georgetown University. “That’s all very nice, but what about their commitment to the apostrophe?”
In the advertising claim “Starbucks commitment,” the commitment is the promise that belongs to Starbucks, and its possessive action calls for a punctuation mark that indicates that: an apostrophe. But this clear grammatical requirement runs into the “sounds funny” problem. To make it correct, you would write “Starbucks’s,” requiring the pronunciation “Starbucks-zzz.” Of course, if the name of the chain were Starbuck’s, (with an apostrophe, meaning “the place owned by a guy named Starbuck, like the character in ‘Moby-Dick,’ ” then it would get a little tricky: Starbuck’s’s. That sounds as if you’re fast asleep.
The British faced the problem of pronouncing the possessive mark after a name ending in s with the Court of St. James’s. They did not equivocate; to this day every newly appointed American ambassador is instructed to say James-zzz. It’s not all that hard to say, and correct usage gives you that added frisson of self-congratulation for standing firm on the side of good grammar and not succumbing to laziness.
I take this stand, splashing about in my venti cuppa coffee, because I’m The Times’s language columnist.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Ticking bomb scenario

The Association for the Prevention of Torture has produced a booklet that addresses the various ticking bomb arguments:,en/

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Common article 3 and interrogation techniques

A very interesting piece by P.X. Kelley and Bob Turner, on how US interrogation techniques violate common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions that appeared in the Washington Post in July just came to my attention:

The proceedings of the conference we held in Galway in 2004 are finally being published. They are edited by one of our PhD students, Edel Hughes, who is now a lecturer at the University of Limerick, and by Ramesh Thakur, who is now at University of Waterloo, and myself. For more information:

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Security and Migration

Papers for a conference to be held Friday in Ottawa on security and migration issues are available at:

Professorship in human rights law

A professorshp in human rights law has been advertised at Buskerud University College in Norway. Requirements are a PhD and a 'solid research background in international human rights'. Teaching and supervision is to be done in English, and there is nothing in the job ad about fluency in Norwegian. I think some of the readers of this blog would probably be good candidates for the job:

Model Codes for Post-Conflict Justice

The long-awaited Model Codes for Post-Conflict Criminal Justice have now been published: Vivienne O'Connor, who has been rule of law project officer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, and who was awarded a PhD at the Irish Centre earlier this year, is one of the editors, along with Colette Rausch. The Codes project began in 2001 as a partnership between the United States Institute of Peace and the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Over the years, hundreds of international experts have been involved in preparation of these Codes.

Monday 17 September 2007

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Last week, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. One of our former LLM students, Carlos Yescas, was there, and has written a lovely personal account:

Sunday 16 September 2007

Provocative article on torture

Prof. Michael Scharf has prepared an article in which he argues that there should be exceptions to the absolute prohibition on the admissibility of evidence obtained under torture. It will apparently be published as Scharf, Michael, "Tainted Provenance: When, If Ever, Should Torture Evidence Be Admissible?" . Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol.65, No. 1, 2008. It is available at: . It seems to run counter to so many principles that one hardly knows where to start in critiquing it. I found the analogy with the use of medical research obtained by Nazi doctors to be particularly odd. The debates about medical research are ultimately ethnical matters. Analogies with the admissibility of evidence in a criminal court, especially when there is a peremptory rule set out in the Torture Convention, seem wrong-headed. But the article will certainly stir controversy and, hopefully, provoke detailed, serious analyses of Mike's arguments.

Death penalty lecture

Last Friday, in Galway, I delivered a lecture to our new LLM students on the issue of capital punishment and international human rights law. Here is the power point:

Residual issues at international criminal tribunals

With the completion strategies fully operational for the international criminal tribunals, attention is turning to the so-called 'residual issues' that will remain once they are shut down. An expert meeting earlier this year produced some useful papers on the subject:

Illicit conflict-fuelling activities of private-sector actors

Bruce Broomhall has sent me a useful link concerning a meeting held in Montreal last March on “hard remedies” available to address the illicit conflict-fuelling activities of private-sector actors:

He writes: 'As some of you know, the discussion focussed on national laws or regulation implementing three areas of international law in particular. These were international criminal law, sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter, and ‘international financial crimes’ (corruption, organized crime, money-laundering).

I recommend that you start with the first of the three listed documents - my own “Overview and recommendations” (click on the title, highlighted in blue). This is the shortest, most general, and most accessible piece. The following two documents are research papers that were distributed at the meeting, and are more detailed and legal-technical in nature. They deal with all three of the international legal regimes in question, and with UN sanctions enforcement respectively.'

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Extraterritorial application of human rights law

Katarina Mannson writes: 'Anyone exploring the issue of extra-territorial application ofinternational HR treaties, and the ECHR in particular, may find aninterest in the attached decision by the ECtHR on two cases brought beforethe Court regarding actions of KFOR (NATO-led forces operating in Kosovo under SC Res 1244). Have not yet read the full decision, but a quick look at para 149 evokes some very intriguing thoughts with respect to thenever-ending fascinating tension between justice and peace/security. I believe this may be yet another instance of political interference in the reasoning of the members of the Court (ie Bankovic syndrome).' Behrami et al:

Monday 10 September 2007

Is Darfur Slipping off the International Agenda?

Katy Glassboro of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting has just sent me an interesting article, ‘Sudan: Is justice slipping off Darfur agenda?’. Available at:

Friday 7 September 2007

Marty Submits Brief to US Supreme Court in El Masry case

Swiss Senator Dick Marty, who has investigated secret detentions on behalf of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), today submitted a brief to the US Supreme Court arguing that ‘virtually nothingÈ remains secret concerning the mistaken kidnapping of German citizen Khaled El-Masri by the CIA. The US government’s contention that state secrets would be revealed if the case was heard is therefore ‘wholly unwarranted’, Marty says in his amicus curiae brief . ‘It would be contrary to the purpose of the state secrets doctrine (...) to allow the US government to shield its clearly wrongful acts on the basis of that doctrine’, writes Marty, arguing that El-Masri should be given the chance to prove his allegations in an American court, as promised by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a December 2005 press conference.

El-Masri spent five months in secret jails in Skopje and Kabul before being released blind-folded in an Albanian forest after it was realised he had been kidnapped in error. He is seeking damages for his illegal abduction and detention but lower courts have ruled that his claims cannot be heard without compromising US national security. The Supreme Court is soon to decide on his appeal.

The full brief is available at:

Recent publications of interest

The latest issue of the International Review of the Red Cross has an article by David Forsythe, who is a long-time associate of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Most recently, Professor Forsythe gave a keynote presentation at the conference on the United Nations Charter bodies that the Irish Centre cosponsored with the University of Potsdam and Hebrew University, held in Potsdam in July 2007. See:

David P. Forsythe, ‘The ICRC: a unique humanitarian protagonist’, (2007) 865 International Review of the Red Cross 63 (available at

The latest issue of Human Rights Quarterly has an interesting article on human rights in China: Ming Wan, ‘Human Rights Lawmaking in China: Domestic Politics, International Law, and International Politics’, (2007) 29 Human Rights Quarterly 727 (available at:

Public Lecture on the Genocide Convention at Cardozo

On 20 September 2007, at 18h00, I will be giving a public lecture entitled 'The Genocide Convention: Where Are We Now?' at Cardozo School of Law, in New York City, where I am a visiting professor for the semester. Here is the poster: It is under the auspices of the Programme in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies here. I don't expect any of you to fly over for the occasion (although you are most welcome), but perhaps you know people in NYC and you can inform me them of this.

Thursday 6 September 2007

Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture

Proceedings of a recent conference on the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention AGainst Torture, which creates new implementation mechanisms, are now available on line:

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Venice Film Festival and Course on Human Rights and Cinema

Sorry for the silence of the past week. As most of you know, for the past three years I have been involved in delivering the academic programme at the summer school on Cinema and Human Rights, offered by the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation, in conjunction with the Venice Film Festival. My main contribution is a series of lectures on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I give using a powerpoint presentation that links provisions of the UDHR with films. Here it is:
But I also have to tell you about the fabulous film that I saw last Friday at the Venice Film Festival. Brian de Palma (Scarfare, the Untouchables, etc.) presented his latest film, Redacted, which is about war crimes committed by US forces in Iraq. I think it may be the most powerful anti-war film ever produced. This is all the more important because the film is produced during the war, and may contribute to its end. Most anti-war films tend to arrive once the fighting has stopped (All Quiet on the Western Front, La Grande illusion, Platoon, etc.) I hope you will all get the chance to see this film. We gave de Palma a 10-minute standing ovation.

Friday 24 August 2007

New publication on minority rights

Minority Rights Group recently sent me its latest report: Entitled Minority Rights: The Key to Conflict Prevention, it is a useful contribution to the literature.

Darfur and the numbers game

For some time now I have had an interest in how human rights violations are counted. There is a debate going on right now because of alleged exaggerations in the number of victims in Darfur. You can find a number of articles on this by googling. For a start, here is something the BBC ran a few days ago:

Louise Arbour on Responsibility to Protect

I just came across a talk that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, delivered to the Council on Foreign Relations in Jun 2007:
Of particular interest is the link she makes between the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, which is recognised in the 2005 Outcome Document of the Summit of Heads of State and Government, and the discussion of the duty to prevent genocide in the recent judgment of the International Court of Justice in Bosnia v. Serbia.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Progress report on ICC

I am currently attending a conference on the International Criminal Court, hosted by the Mexican Department of Foreign Affairs and our colleagues at Iberamericano University, Mexico City. My presentation was an evaluation of the work of the Prosecutor after five years. Here is the powerpoint presentation:

Death penalty abolition campaign at UN General Assembly

At this year's General Assembly session, the EU is attempting to secure the adoption of a resolution on abolition of the death penalty. Previous attempts, in 1994 and 1999, were unsuccessful. But many countries have abolished the death penalty since then, and it is believed that we may have turned the corner.
Amnesty International has prepared a background paper on the subject, which I have posted at:
In addition, Amnesty is asking everyone to sign a petition: .
The petition will be presented to the President of the General Assembly on World Day against the Death Penalty, 10 October 2007. Please circulate this widely. The petition will also be posted shortly at: