Monday 31 May 2010

Charles Taylor's Millions

New York Times journalist Doreen Carvajal has produced a fascinating article on the search for the millions (billions?) that allegedly belong to Charles Taylor.
Thanks to Quincy Diep.

Thursday 27 May 2010

The Right to Peace

The report of the expert workshop on The Right of Peoples to Peace convened pursuant to a resolution of the Human Rights Council has now been issued. Presumably, it should lead to further action at the next meeting of the Human Rights Council, which begins on 31 May.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

'Inherent' Powers of the International Criminal Court

Pre-Trial Chamber I has granted the motion of the Prosecutor requesting that it inform the Security Council that Sudan has failed to cooperate with the Court. The decision contains a curious reference to 'inherent powers' of the Court. According to the Chamber, 'the Court has the inherent power to inform the Security Council of such a failure' (p. 6). This is accompanied with a footnote citing the Blaskic subpoena decision of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of October 1997. That ruling states that ‘the International Tribunal must possess the power to make all those judicial determinations that are necessary for the exercise of its primary jurisdiction. This inherent power inures to the benefit of the International Tribunal in order that its basic judicial function may be fully discharged and its judicial role safeguarded.’
The Pre-Trial Chamber's brief allusion to 'inherent powers' may seem ephemeral and anodine, but when coupled with the reference to Blaskic it suggests the emergence of a rather bold doctrine. An important difference between the ad hoc Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court is the insistence by States, with respect to the Court, upon a detailed and comprehensive codification of the powers and procedures available to the Court.
Blaskic is important here, because the idea that judges would have inherent powers did not sit well with those who drafted the Rome Statute. They specifically reacted to the Blaskic decision with one of the most awkward provisions in the Rome Statute, article 72, which concerns national security information.
An 'inherent power' to inform the Security Council is not a big deal, of course. It does not seem to have any particular legal consequences. Presumably the members of the Security Council already know that Sudan is not being cooperative. They hardly need a decision from the Pre-Trial Chamber to tell them this. But the mere suggestion that the judges have 'inherent powers' - especially given that the idea is rooted in the controversial Blaskic decision - is a Pandora's box.
Thanks to Maria Veraki.

Joseph Sebarenzi Defends his Thesis on Gacaca and Restorative Justice

Joseph Sebarenzi successfully defended his PhD thesis at the Irish Centre for Human Rights today. Joseph, who is the former speaker of the Rwandan National Assembly, completed his thesis entitled: 'Beyond Gacaca Courts: Restorative Justice in Rwanda'. The thesis takes a critical look at the Gacaca courts in Rwanda, concluding that they do not fulfil their promise of restorative justice.
Prof. Stephan Parmentier (at the right of the photo) of the University of Leuven was the external examiner, and Dr Shane Darcy (at the left) was the internal examiner.

Monday 24 May 2010

Fidelma Donlon Appointed Deputy Registrar at Special Court for Sierra Leone

Fidelma Donlon, who is completing her doctorate at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, has been appointed Deputy Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, according to an announcement issued earlier today. Here is the text of the announcement:

Congratulations, Fidelma. But please don't let this get in the way of finishing your thesis!

Saturday 22 May 2010

Cambodia Tribunal Rejects Joint Criminal Enterprise Theory

A five-judge pre-trial chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia has rejected the theory of liability known as 'JCE III'. The JCE III concept was developed by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in an expansive interpretation of article 7(1) of its Statute. The Yugoslavia Tribunal said it based itself upon customary international law, citing post-Second World War authorities. Since then, the concept has been controversial, but despite challenges it was reaffirmed by the Appeals Chamber. Nevertheless, decisions from the International Criminal Court appear to reject the concept, favouring a theory known as 'co-perpetration'.
Under JCE III, an accused may be convicted for the crimes that were perpetrated by another to the extent that they were comprised within a 'joint criminal enterprise' to commit crimes within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, even in the absence of evidence that the accused intended to commit the crimes charged. It is similar to what is sometimes called 'common purpose' liability in domestic legal systems. Critics of the approach have quipped that JCE means 'Just Convict Everyone'.
More fuel to this fire now comes from the Cambodia Tribunal in this recent ruling, issued a day ago. The judges review the case law from the Second World War proceedings and reach a different conclusion from that of the Yugoslavia Tribunal. Accordingly, they grant the motion of the defendants to reject charges based upon the JCE III theory, given that this was not part of customary international law in the 1970s when the alleged crimes were committed.
Thanks to Wolfgang Schomburg.

Friday 21 May 2010

Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct

The International Commission of Jurists recently issued a very useful paper entitled International Human Rights Law and the Criminalization of Same-Sex Sexual Conduct.

Holocaust Denial Laws in Europe: A Critical Perspective

My colleague Dr Laurent Pech has written a very fine but provocative paper on European Union initiatives aimed at prosecution of holocaust denial. He writes:
Before offering a critical review of the EU FD on racism and arguing that the political necessity of laws punishing genocide denial and the legal need for an EU-wide prohibition may be seriously questioned, this paper will contend that the legal reasoning developed by national courts in “militant democracies” is far from convincing and that the European Court of Human Rights should have refrained from labeling the Holocaust a clearly established historical fact whose denial constitutes ipso facto an “abuse of right”.
See the article.

Executions in Palestine

Three executions were carried out by the Hamas government in Gaza earlier this week. The executions are condemned  by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which reviews the history of capital punishment in Palestine in recent years in a detailed statement.
Thanks to Aimé Kalimunda.

Post-Doc and PhD Positions at Amsterdam Centre for International Law

The Amsterdam Centre for International Law is currently hiring 1 or 2 post-doctoral researchers and 3 or 4 PhD candidates for the project Shared Responsibility in International Law (SHARES). This is a five-year research project funded by the European Science Foundation, which has started on 1 May 2010. The SHARES-project will examine problems arising from the fact that as the responsibility for international policies is increasingly shared among multiple states, international organizations and other actors, the discrete responsibility of each individual actor is likely to diminish proportionately. It also seeks to identify substantive and procedural principles that are appropriate for situations of shared responsibility.For a description of SHARES and information on the job openings, click.

Abu Dhabi, Sex and the City and Women's Rights

A graduate of our LLM programme, Nick McGeehan, had an article in The Guardian this week on the hypocrisy of Abu Dhabi, which welcomes Sex and the City 2 but which has a dismal record when it comes to gender equality. Perhaps this is not as anomalous some might initially think
Thanks to Michelle Farrell.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Life Without Parole for Juveniles Contrary to 'Evolving Standards of Decency' Says US Supreme Court

In Graham v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a violation of the constitution. Students of international human rights law will know that this is prohibited by article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A five-judge majority (you don’t really need me to tell you who I’m talking about) supported the opinion of Justice Kennedy, which referred to the international law source as follows:

Thus, as petitioner contends and respondent does not contest, the United States is the only Nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile non-homicide offenders. We also note, as petitioner and his amici emphasize, that Article 37(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U. N. T. S. 3 (entered into force Sept. 2, 1990), ratified by every nation except the United States and Somalia, prohibits the imposition of “life imprisonment without possibility of release . . . for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”
Thanks to Megan Fairlie.

Monday 17 May 2010

Kononov War Crimes Judgment Issued by European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights today issued its ruling in Kononov v. Latvia, dismissing the complaint based upon article 7 of the European Convention and the alleged retroactive prosecution of war crimes committed by the applicant in 1944. The ruling reverses a decision of a Chamber of the Court in 2008. I acted as counsel to Latvia in the case before the Grand Chamber.
The decision affirms that the conviction of Kononov with respect to a massacre of villagers that took place in Nazi-occupied Latvia in early 1944 did not constitute retroactive prosecution. International war crimes were sufficiently clear as a legal concept at the time as to respond to the requirements that crimes be 'foreseeable' and 'accessible'.
Kononov had been the leader of a small band of partisans who were operating behind Nazi lines. They entered the village and executed nine people who were suspected of Nazi sympathies. The Chamber of the Court, in the 2008 reuling, had debated whether the villagers could be described as combatants. Concluding this to be the case, it held that their summary execution was not a crime under the laws of war as they were known at the time.
The Grand Chamber today took a different perspective. Without ruling on the issue, it said it would take the applicant’s argument at its highest, and assume that the victims were combatants. But it said that even if they were in fact combatants, at the time they were murdered there was no suggestion of armed activity, they were therefore hors de combat and could not be executed. This is what I had argued before the Grand Chamber last May at the oral hearing.
Three of the seventeen judges dissented. They adopted the very general proposition that international war crimes were not adequately defined in 1944. and that therefore the prosecution in Latvia (which actually took place in the 1990s) violated the prohibition on retroactive prosecution found in article 7(1) of the European Convention. In effect, they also said that the Nuremberg trial should be deemed a violation of article 7(1) of the European Convention.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Erik Mose Festschrift

Erik Mose presided over the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda from 2003 until 2007, and served as a judge there from 1999. He contributed to many important judgments, and steered the Tribunal through several challenging years. Jean-Pelé Fometé and Roland Adjovi are preparing a festschrift in his honour.
Interested persons are invited to submit a short resumé of their proposed contribution and a brief c.v. no later than 30 June 2010, to

Saturday 15 May 2010

Ancel Report on Death Penalty

In the early 1960s, the United Nations commissioned the French criminologist Marc Ancel to prepare a study on capital punishment. It was subsequently revised with the assistance of Norval Morris. The volume is not easily available, but I am pleased to post a pdf for the benefit of readers of this blog. There are two files, the first for the cover and table of contents, and the second for the book itself.
Thanks to Eduardo Vetere.

Singapore Judgment Upholds Mandatory Death Penalty

The Court of Appeal of Singapore has dismissed a challenge to the mandatory death penalty, in Yong Yi Kong v. Public Prosecutor, which was issued yesterday. The applicant had been sentenced to death following conviction for trafficking in about 50 grams of morphine. There is now much general authority in human rights law for the impermissibility of the mandatory death penalty under any circumstances, even in the case of conviction for murder. Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights authorizes the death penalty only for 'the most serious crimes'. By removing discretion from a sentencing judge, a mandatory death penalty allows for the possibility of capital punishment in the case of crimes that do not meet such a standard. The United Nations Safeguards on the use of capital punishment hold that the phrase 'most serious crimes' refers to crimes with lethal or other grave consequences.
The judges distinguish the law in Singapore from that in other common law jurisdictions, where mandatory death penalties have been struck down, by noting that Singapore's constitution does not prohibit 'inhuman punishment'. There are many references to international human rights law, and to customary international law, in this unfortunate judgment, which concludes that there is no norm of customary international law prohibiting the mandatory death penalty.

Doctoral Seminar 2010

We've just completed this year's PhD Seminar, an intensive week-long event that brings together our doctoral students as well as international experts in the field of human rights. We spend the days discussing the research projects of our students. There are also sessions devoted to methodology. A highlight of the week is a series of seminars by the visiting experts. This year, our guests were Professor David Weissbrodt of the University of Minnesota, Professor Sir Nigel Rodley of the University of Essex, and Dr Jérémie Gilbert of Middlesex University.

It was the ninth such seminar. The group was larger than ever, with about 35 doctoral students in attendance who are registered at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, as well as some guests who attended from Middlesex University in London, the University of Berne and the Graduate Institute for International Studies (Geneva). By my count, some 18 countries were represented: China, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Nigeria, Benin, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and, of course, Ireland. I apologize if I have left out one or two.

The topics our students are researching range from the rights of victims at the International Criminal Court to the issue of homosexuality in Islamic law to the death penalty in Africa to forensic investigation in war crimes trials to the right to habeas corpus.

We include a number of more informal events. This year, we went to a Klezmer music concert, and took a walking trip to Coole Park, Lady Gregory's old estate where Yeats and Shaw and the rest of the great and the good in Irish literature would visit. The photo shows the group by the turlough (a temporary lake) on the Coole Park estate.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Summer Schools at Irish Centre for Human Rights

Registration is still open for our two annual summer schools at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, with a limited amount of places still available.

*June 14-18, Minority Rights, Indigenous Peoples & Human Rights Law Summer School*

The aim of the course is to provide participants with an overview of the legal, political and philosophical issues pertaining to international human rights law and its relationship to minority rights and the rights of indigenous peoples.

During the course participants seek to understand, assimilate and critically evaluate legal arguments with respect to the international minority rights regime and how it pertains to minorities and indigenous peoples. In addition they are encouraged to analyse the underlying philosophical basis within the discourse and to become familiar with current debates and cases with a special focus on issues such as the right to land, affirmative action policies, and effective political participation and restitution.

*June 20-24, International Criminal Court Summer School*

The Summer Course on the International Criminal Court offered by the Irish Centre for Human Rights is widely acknowledged to be the premier programme of its kind. During the five days of intensive lectures, delivered by leading specialists in the field, students are provided with a detailed working knowledge of the establishment of the Court, its applicable law, its structures and its operations. Lectures also speak to related issues in international criminal law, including universal jurisdiction, immunities and the role of the victims.

Registrations close on 15 May, 2010. To register for either course, go to:

For further details contact:

- Minority Rights: Susan Megy, Programme Coordinator, PhD Fellow:
- ICC: Yvonne McDermott, Programme Coordinator, PhD Fellow:

Gerald Gahima Defends Doctoral Thesis

Gerald Gahima successfully defended his doctoral thesis yesterday at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Entitled Rwanda: Accountability for Atrocity, it examines the efforts taken within Rwanda to bring perpetrators of genocide to book. Gerald Gahima was a very central figure in the process, as the chief of staff to the Rwandan Minister of Justice for several years, beginning in 1995, and subsequently as the country's Attorney General. He currently live outside Rwanda . The thesis contains many insights into the difficulties of 'post-conflict justice', enriched by his own quite unique perspective.
The photo shows Gerald, on the left, the internal examiner, Dr. Noam Lubell, on the right, and the external examiner, Prof. Mark Drumbl, on the video screen in the middle. This was the first viva that we have conducted by videoconference. Professor Drumbl, of Washington and Lee University in Virginia, is a distinguished specialist on Rwandan mechanisms to address justice. See his recent book, Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law, published in 2007 by Cambridge University Press. Dr. Noam Lubell is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights; his Extraterritorial Use of Force Against Non-State Actors is to be published by Oxford University Press in the next few weeks.
I have no doubt that Gerald Gahima's thesis will soon be taken up by a major international publisher, and that it will make an important contribution to our thinking about issues of transitional justice. Congratulations on this achievement, Gerald.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Somalia: State Failure, Piracy and International Law

A fine and stimulating article entitled 'Somalia: State Failure, Piracy, and the Challenge to International Law' is published in the latest issue of the Virginia Journal of International Law by one of our doctoral students, Mario Silva.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Anthony Cullen's Thesis Published by Cambridge

Dr Anthony Cullen, who graduated with a doctorate from the Irish Centre for Human Rights two years ago (he also completed his LLM at the Centre) has published his thesis with Cambridge University Press, entitled The Concept of Non-International Armed Conflict in International Humanitarian Law. Some of Anthony's research has already been published, and was cited with approval by a Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Boškoski et al. (IT-04-82-T), Judgment, 10 July 2008, para. 197, fn. 790.
Anthony is currently working at the Lauterpacht Centre at the University of Cambridge. Bravo!