16 December, 2015

Bingham Centre November 2015 ~ International Justice and the Rule of Law

On 20th November 1945, the Nuremberg trials opened in Germany.  On 19th November, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law together with UCL's Centre on International Courts and Tribunals held an event on 'International Justice and The Rule of Law: The 70th Anniversary of Nuremberg'

See the Bingham Centre's News Release

The event provided an opportunity to hear leading experts and relatives of those participating in the original trial reflect on this important moment for the rule of law and international justice. The event offered a historical perspective on the legacy of the Tribunal and its influence on the development of international criminal law.

A keynote presentation was given by Lord Justice Fulford (Deputy Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, and former judge International Criminal Court 2003-2012).

30 November, 2015

Syria ~ the peace process

At the time of writing (30th November 2015) the British government is seeking to extend bombing to ISIL targets in Syria. The Royal Air Force is already engaged in Iraq.

Since 2012 there has been a peace process seeking to bring the Syrian Civil War to an end and the UK government is committed to this process.  Here are some links with further information:

Action Group for Syria - Final Commuique of 30th June 2012

Final Declaration on the results of the Syria talks in Vienna as agreed by participants - 30th October 2015

Statement of the International Syria Support Group - 14th November 2015

UN Security Council - Documents relating to Syria

Some background:

22 November, 2015

A global and unprecdented threat ~ UN SCR 2249

Islamic State" (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris on Friday 13th November - Reuters 14th November.   At the time, the President of France described the attacks as "an act of war."

The United Nations Security Council has now adopted UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2249 (2015) - Read the Resolution.  The resolution calls upon those Member States with the capacity to do so to take

19 November, 2015

Is international law futile in the face of modern terrorism?

An interesting article in The Guardian expresses concern that international law is somewhat impotent in the face of modern terrorism challenges - Lyal S. Sunga* - The Guardian 14th November

The author argues - "It is now urgent for States to update rather than sideline the Geneva conventions, agree upon a definition of ‘terrorist act’, perhaps through a new comprehensive UN convention against terrorism, strengthen international cooperation and public awareness of the role and importance of international humanitarian law, consider revising the International Criminal Court’s Statute explicitly to cover terrorist acts, and above all, maintain the high moral ground."

Please read the article.  This is a topic to which we must return .....!

* Lyal S. Sunga has conducted monitoring, investigation, reporting, technical cooperation, education and training in some 55 countries over the last 25 years in human rights, humanitarian law and international criminal law. He is Head of the Rule of Law program at the Hague Institute for Global Justice in The Netherlands, and Visiting Professor at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden

02 October, 2015

Nuclear weapons

The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP (Leader of the Opposition) has expressed his personal views about the UK's nuclear weapon capability - BBC News 30th September - Jeremy Corbyn row after "I'd not fire nuclear weapons" comment.   Corbyn's personal views are not - (at least not yet) - the policy position of the Labour Party which remains supportive of the need for UK nuclear weapons.  Mr Corbyn insists that he is seeking a mature debate on this subject.  Such a debate seems timely given that the government is to make its decision on Trident replacement in 2016.  The costs of replacement are massive (see BBC 9th April 2015) and that in itself adds another dimension to the debate at a time when the government insists that financial austerity is necessary and when many public services are under severe financial pressure.

It has been argued in some quarters (e.g. CND Trident and International Law) that renewal of Trident would be a breach of the UK's nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.   CND argue that:

"The Geneva Convention Protocol from 1977 states that ‘the civilian population shall not be the object of attack’ and prohibits ‘methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’.  (See here)
It is impossible to use a nuclear weapon selectively, meaning that launching Trident would certainly be illegal as there would be a huge number of civilian casualties and devastation of the natural environment. The ensuing radioactive contamination of the area would also violate the population’s ‘right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family’, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

A House of Commons Briefing Paper (SN06526 of 10th March 2015) has this to say:

"The UK’s Disarmament Obligations  Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits the recognised nuclear weapon states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. 

Successive Governments have insisted that replacing Trident is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the NPT, arguing that the treaty contains no prohibition on updating existing weapons systems and gives no explicit timeframe for nuclear disarmament.  It also insists it has taken a number of steps in support of the NPT, pointing to the significant downsizing of the British nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War, with the withdrawal of all other nuclear weapons systems except for Trident, the reduction to fewer than 200 warheads in the overall stockpile and the reductions in the operational status of the deterrent. 
Furthermore, the Government insists that sustainable nuclear disarmament can only be achieved through a multilateral process. The UK has the smallest nuclear arsenal of the five recognised nuclear powers and says it will be willing to place its remaining weapons on the table for negotiation when Russia and the US have reduced their arsenals to similar levels.  Others believe the Government could do more to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament by reducing the UK arsenal further."

What is the position in international law?

30 September, 2015

Saudi Arabia and the United Nations Human Rights Council

According to Amnesty International, 175 individuals were executed in Saudi Arabia in the period August 2014 to June 2015.  Recent reports state that they intend to execute (by beheading) a 17 year old male (Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr) and display his crucified body - Saudi Arabia plans to crucify teen as is ascends to UN Human Rights Council Chair.

Such barbarity is utterly incompatible with human rights and should be condemned internationally.

Instead, we see that Saudi Arabia is to head the Consultative Group to the President of the UN Human Rights Council.  The Consultative Group comprises 5 Ambassadors - UN Watch 20th September.  The Group has the power to select applicants from around the world for more than 77 positions dealing with country-specific and thematic human rights mandates.

Reports that the UK Government supported Saudi Arabia becoming part of the UNHRC are particularly disturbing - The Guardian 29th September.

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour Party Leader),

15 September, 2015

Nations using drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or "drones" are in use by several nations - The Five most deadly drone powers in the world.

In August 2015, a drone was used by (or on behalf of) the British government to kill a British citizen who was in Syria - BBC News 7th September.  Irrespective of the legality of that killing, there ought to be serious concern that this technology will spread into the hands of unfriendly regimes (including non-State actors) with obvious consequences.

It has recently been forecast that every country will have armed drones within 10 years

With regard to Targeted Killings conducted by the USA see Council on Foreign Relations 23rd May 2013

05 August, 2015

International Criminal Court

Anyone wishing to know something about the International Criminal Court should read their document Understanding the International Criminal Court (49 pp. pdf).

The court was established by the Rome Statute  which dates from 1998  but which entered into force on 1st July 2002.  The court has NO jurisdiction for events prior to that date.  The court is also a "last resort" and acts where national authorities are not acting to bring alleged perpetrators to justice.

Effect is given in the United Kingdom to the ICC by the International Criminal Court Act 2001

Watching the Law blog 4th September 2012 - Tutu and Blair: The International Criminal Court

29 July, 2015

Mandatory Death Penalty

Some States continue to mandate a death sentence for certain offences such as murder.

Oxford Human Rights Hub has published an article by barrister Joseph Middleton - The Mandatory Death Penalty and Narratives of the Common Law.

"An argument has evolved over decades, in India, the US, the Commonwealth Caribbean and most recently in Africa, that imposing the ultimate and irreversible penalty of death, without considering the particular circumstances of the offence and the offender, and without allowing any possibility for mitigation, is unconstitutional. It amounts to cruel and inhuman punishment and it violates the right to a fair trial, including the right to a fair sentence. It also violates the separation of powers, because by denying the courts any discretion on sentence, it deprives them of an essential judicial function, the imposition of an appropriate sentence for each offence."

The United Kingdom

04 February, 2015

Croatia v Serbia ~ International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice has delivered judgment in the "Genocide" case of Croatia v Serbia.

Croatia contended that Serbia was responsible for breaches of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide committed in Croatia between 1991 and 1995. In its counter-claim, Serbia contended that Croatia was itself responsible for breaches of the Convention committed in 1995 in the “ Republika Srpska Krajina”, an entity established in late 1991.

It is a lengthy judgment (146 pages / 524 paragraphs) and reveals much of the horror of the conflict.  The court first decided (11 judges to 6) that its jurisdiction to entertain Croatia's claim extended to before 27th April 1992.  The court then decided (15 to 2) to reject Croatia's claim and unanimously dismissed Serbia's counter claim.