Friday 30 May 2008

Cluster Munitions

Here is the text of the treaty on cluster munitions, to be signed in Dublin this morning: All of the documents are available at:

Thursday 29 May 2008

Immigrants in Ireland

'Getting On -From Migration to Integration' ( is a new publication from the Immigrant Council of Ireland that studies the integration experiences of four groups in Ireland – the Chinese, Indian, Lithuanian and Nigerian. Denise Charlton of the ICI said the research looked at four key indicators of integration: political integration; economic integration; social integration and cultural integration. 'Some of the findings confirm the stance taken by the ICI on issues such as the need for clear and transparent rules relating to migrants’ rights to family reunification, including visits to Ireland by migrants’ family members', Ms Charlton said.
'In relation to immigration status and uncertainty about the future, we believe clearer pathways to security of status, more information and a more efficient and transparent immigration system would help in this area.' Ms Charlton said, in relation to the research’s findings about migrants’ experiences of racism and discrimination, the ICI has called on the Government to act on its promise to review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 without delay.

International Criminal Law Job in Amsterdam

The Faculty of Law at the Free University of Amsterdam is looking for an Assistant Professor in Criminology (Vacancy number 1.2008.00167, This is an unusual position because the job seems targeted at servicing a new master profile International Crimes and Criminology. According to the announcement, the programme will take an interdisciplinary approach to international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other gross human rights violations. The aim of the programme is to measure and map the prevalence of international crimes; to define and conceptualize them, to map the consequences and estimate the costs; to examine the causes and analyze ways to effectively prevent, stop and react to this type of criminality. The master programme is closely interlinked with the research program on international crimes and criminology which has recently been launched.

PhD Comics

A PhD student at the European University Institute has sent me this link to PhD comics, with the advice that it is 'scaringly accurate on doctoral life':
Thanks to Dov Jacobs.

ICTR Trial Chamber Rejects Transfer to Rwanda

A Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has rejected a prosecution application to transfer a case to the national courts of Rwanda: The judges cite a number of factors: although Rwandan law has abolished the death penalty, it leaves open the possibility of life imprisonment in solitary confinement, which would be unacceptable; trials in Rwanda are to take place before a single judge, which the ICTR Trial Chamber says does not provide sufficient guarantees of independence and impartiality; the Rwandan government has a history of trying to influence judges improperly, as can be seen in its difficult relationship with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and its criticism of French and Spanish judges who have attempted to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed in Rwanda; Rwanda has an inadequate witness protection programme. In their concluding remarks, the Trial Chamber says that it acknowledges improvements in Rwanda's justice system, and that if this continues it will be prepared to transfer cases in the future.
The decision is a new element in the debate about the relationship between national courts and international jurisdictions. The International Criminal Court is said to be 'complementary' to national jurisdictions, and to operate only when they are 'unwilling or unable' to provide adequate justice. Here we have a case of an international tribunal deciding that a national system is not 'able', the first such decision that I know of.
Some of the international NGOs have opposed transfer of cases to Rwanda, as they have opposed extradition of suspects to Rwanda by other countries. A big impunity gap is opening up. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is about to close its doors. The Security Council does not want the Tribunal to start any more trials. This is why the Prosecutor is applying to transfer cases to the national jurisdictions.
Few countries have the legal wherewithal to try crimes committed in Rwanda, under universal jurisdiction, and even fewer have the political will to do so. Rwanda is virtually the only country that wants to prosecute those suspected of genocide, which is understandable enough. Yet if the International Tribunal refuses to transfer cases to Rwanda, and if national judges follow suit by denying extradition to Rwanda, how will the suspects be brought to justice and where will they be tried? I wish these NGOs could provide us with workable, and not just theoretical, answers to this question.
Africa Rights and REDRESS are holding a conference on these questions in Brussels on 1 July, at which I will be one of the participants.

Just War Not a Mitigating Factor, Says Special Court for Sierra Leone

The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone has ruled that fighting for a just cause is not a mitigating factor in sentencing for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the so-called CDF case, involving pro-government militias, a majority of the Trial Chamber had considered the fact that the two accused were fighting to defend a democratically elected government in imposing relatively light sentences, of six and eight years imprisonment. This compared dramatically with terms of 45 and 50 years that were handed out to the anti-government rebels. These are the highest fixed term custodial sentences ever imposed by an international criminal tribual. The Trial Chamber judge who had been appointed by the Government of Sierra Leone actually voted to acquit, saying fighting a just war was actually a full defense.
Yesterday's ruling by the Appeals Chamber is a healthy clarification. Although some of the convictions were reversed, the sentences were increased to 15 and 20 years. The full judgment doesn't seem to be available yet, so this comment is based upon a press release from the Court:

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Actually, in Custody, but not in The Hague

My last post erroneously said Bemba was in The Hague. He isn't there yet, however. He apparently will appear before a court in Brussels this afternoon, and his lawyer says he will ask that he be released with an undertaking to remain in Belgium and to be available to the Court. I can't see how that would work, because he needs to be brought to The Hague to appear in order for the proceedings to go ahead. It will be for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to rule on whether he should be released during the proceedings.
But the hearing in Belgium will be interesting because it seems it is the first case of an accused contesting his transfer to the International Criminal Court. In the other cases, involving rebel leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the accused have been rather acquiescent. They seem to prefer being taken to The Hague than being held in jail in Congo. I wonder why...

Bemba in Custody in The Hague

Jean-Pierre Bemba becomes the 12th person to be charged by the International Criminal Court. See: Bemba was arrested in Belgium on Saturday for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic. This is the first arrest warrant for the 'situation in Central AFrican Republic'.
The Central African Republic, which is a State Party to the Rome Statute, referred the situation on its territory to the Court on 21 December 2004. It was the third such 'self-referral', a creative way of triggering the jurisdiction of the Court which was developed by the Prosecutor. Only in May 2007, nearly two and a half years after the referral, did the Prosecutor announce a decision to 'initiate an investigation' into the situation.
Last weekend, I attended a conference at which Deputy Prosecutor Bensouda said that other possible situations are being studied with a view to launching proceedings: Afghanistan (!), Colombia and Côte d'Ivoire.
Thanks to Nadia Bernaz.

Ugandan Court Being Set Up to Try Atrocities in Place of the International Criminal Court

The latest development in the saga of the International Criminal Court in northern Uganda is reported yesterday, by Reuters. It says Uganda has appointed judges to preside over a special war crimes tribunal to try leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued its first arrest warrants, directed against five of the rebel leaders. Probably only two of them are still alive.
It is widely acknowleged that the arrest warrants pushed the rebels to the negotiating tables, and helped promote peace in Northern Uganda. However, the rebels wanted the arrest warrants lifted as part of a peace deal, something that the International Criminal Court has resisted. The special tribunal was agreed to in peace talks, although the agreement has not yet been signed.
We have come up with ... the people who will be behind this special court, which will be mandated to handle serious crimes and human rights abuses that amount to war crimes," Principal Judge James Ogoola told Reuters."We still have a lot of work to do. We have to come up with a special law which has to be enacted by government to make sure that these prosecutions suit international standards," said Ogoola, who will head the three-judge tribunal. Reuters says that alhough the Ugandan constitution allows for a death penalty, Ogoola said the proposed law would exclude the sentence to suit international standards.

Monday 26 May 2008

Special Rapporteur Paul Hunt on Drug Policy

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health spoke at the 19th international harm reduction conference last week. For a video of the speech: Professor Hunt spelled out the many human rights violations connected with drug policy, stating that the 'litany of abuse is long'. He referred to the lack of regard for human rights in the international drug control system not only as bizarre, given General Assembly directives, but also, as 'inexcusable'.
Thanks to Rick Lines.

Internships at Cambodia Tribunal

The Defence Support Section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is seeking qualified and dedicated candidates to fill four internship vacancies.
Requirements: Be under 35 years of age; no more than 5 years of work experience; University degree in law with emphasis on criminal law, international criminal law, international humanitarian law, and/or international human rights law; Master's degree and/or Bar admission an asset. Send a CV and a cover letter to or ASAP.

Alexandria Declaration on Death Penalty

Earlier this month, the Alexandria Declaration was adopted calling upon Arab States to comply with the December 2007 General Assembly resolution that supports a moratorium on the death penalty. For information about the meeting:
For the Declaration itself:

Wednesday 21 May 2008

International Criminal Law Website

Here is a useful website that provides daily updates on developments in international criminal law, essentially headlines and links to news stories:
Thanks to Megan Fairlie.

Draft Protocol to Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is Finalised

The Open Ended Working Group on a Draft Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has completed, as of 4 April 2008, the draft text which is now before the Human Rights Council for adoption. It is hoped this will proceed through the system and be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly later this year. The Optional Protocol provides for an individual petition mechanism to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For information:

Disabilities Convention in Force

The eighth major United Nations human rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, entered into force on 3 May 2008. As of 15 May 2008, there have been 129 signatures to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and 71 to the Optional Protocol. Twenty-six countries have ratified the Convention and sixteen countries have ratified the Optional Protocol. For a list of States parties to the two instruments, see: Unfortunately, Ireland is not among them.

Audiovisual Library of International Law

An audiovisual library of international law is currently being prepared by the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations. Check out the pilot project at: Among the topics are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. The pilot website already includes rarely seen audio and visual footage of speeches by people like Raphael Lemkin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Some 70 specialists in international law are preparing taped lectures on a range of topics. These will be part of the formal launch of the website later this year.

Right to Food at Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council will hold a one day special session on the Right to Food. The Council has previously held special sessions on geographic issues, such as Palestine and Darfur, but this is the first (hopefully of many) on a theme. I plan to be there tomorrow, in Geneva, when it opens. See:

Prosecutorial Discretion, Judicial Activism at the International Criminal Court

Last week, I presented a paper to a symposium in Florence on prosecutorial discretion and judicial activism at the International Criminal Court. Among other issues, it deals with gravity as the primary criterion for the selection of cases by the Prosecutor:

Impact of the Yugoslavia Tribunal in Serbia

Diane Orentlicher, of American University, has prepared a study on the impact of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, entitled: Shrinking the Space for Denial: The Impact of the ICTY in Serbia:

More on Universal Periodic Review

From time to time, I have written about the new Universal Periodic Review process underway at the UN Human Rights Council. Probably, I have been more enthusaistic about it than most observers. It has been operational for several weeks now. I am in Geneva, and what I learn is that it is generally viewed as being successful to date. The materials generated by the process are fascinating, with recommendations and comments addressing a range of important human rights issues, including the death penalty and sexual orientation. There have also been recommendations that States withdraw reservations to human rights treaties and, apparently, some commitments to do so. It seems clear that this will become an important resource for study of state practice in the area of human rights. There is a new website dedicated to following the process:

Thesis Topics

I keep a rolling list of ideas on subjects that might make good topics for theses and dissertations. These are only ideas, of course, but they may be helpful in generating proposals for students interested in pursuing postgraduate studies:

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences Doctoral Fellowships

Three of our PhD students have just been awarded prestigious doctoral fellowships by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences:
Niamh Hayes
Eadaoin O'Brien
Joseph Powderly
Congratulations to the three of you for this impressive accomplishment.

Monday 12 May 2008

Silenced Again by Chinese Blackout, but Some Good News from China

The blog has been silent for the past because I have been in China, and cannot access it due to censorship.
Together with Roger Hood (who has just published the 4th edition of his book The Death Penalty), I participated in seminars in at the Dalian Maritime University that were co-sponsored by colleagues at the Beijing Norman University. Roger and I spoke to more than 150 Chinese scholars, officials, judges and law students. It was quite astonishing. They told us, during the conference, that there was now a consensus in favour of abolishing the death penalty in China. We discussed a report prepared by several researchers at the Beijing Normal University setting out a strategy for the restriction of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. Nobody should hold their breath expecting any dramatic immediate results, but what is significant is how much the discourse has changed over the past seven or eight years, since I started going to China for such sessions on capital punishment. In 2001, our comments on the death penalty would be met with rather chilly answers, and we would be told that this was a European obsession incompatible with Chinese domestic policy. Now, we are told it is simply a matter of time.
China is a country of paradoxes. On the one hand, the progress in so many areas is absolutely stunning. But when they are looking for excuses about not making more headway in the area of human rights, the Chinese retreat into cliches about being a developing country, and how change takes many years to effect.
Well, the good news is that there is movement underway there. I expect to be back for another seminar later in the year. Maybe then I'll be able to access my blog.

Friday 2 May 2008

Lessons from History

Today's Guardian has a thoughtful and troubling comment on international criminal justice:

Thursday 1 May 2008

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Issues Report on Ireland

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has just released a report on the human rights situation in Ireland today :
The report covers a range of human rights issues , including children's rights, education, asylum-seekers, migrants and new communities, women, Travellers and mental health, and much more. The Irish Government response is annexed to the report.
Thomas Hammarberg has a long connection with Ireland, going back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was involved in monitoring human rights violations committed in prisons in Northern Ireland. At the time, he was head of the Swedish section of Amnesty International. Hammarberg drove the initiatives within Amnesty International to make abolition of the death penalty one of the components of the organisation mandate.