Friday, August 22, 2008

Remembrance Slave Trade and its Abolition

Saturday 23 August marks the UN ninth annual International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
The UNESCO Director-General Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, in a message on the occasion of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition makes an appeal “for universal remembrance of the tragic events of the past and to renew their efforts to end all forms of oppression in order to build more tolerant and just societies for the present and future generations”. In 1988 the UNESCO Executive Board adopted resolution 29 C/40 inviting all Member States to organize events to mark 23 August each year to remind people of the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade and to give people a chance to think about the historic causes, the methods and the consequences of slave trade.
Despite the 1926 Slavery Convention of the League of Nations and its 1955 Supplementary Convention by the United Nations and also article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms", modern forms of slavery still exist. Human trafficking, bonded labor, forced child labor, forced prostitution, abuse of domestic workers are ways to exploit human beings. Many states are still reluctant to apologize for their role in the slave trade or slavery. Claims for reparations for the descendants of people held in slavery are the subject of debate in national courts.

Monday, August 11, 2008

EU Declaration on Medellín Execution

On Monday, 11 August, the Council of the European Union (EU) issued a declaration on the execution of Mexican national José Medellín in Texas last week.

In the declaration the EU restates its opposition to the death penalty, which it calls an affront to human dignity, and appeals to the United States to introduce a moratorium on executions referring to UN General Assembly resolution 62/149 of 18 December 2007. The EU also urges the United States to take the legislative measures required to give effect to the rulings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and calls on Texas to halt the executions of the four remaining Mexican nationals on death row named in the ICJ provisional measures order of 16 July.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Texas Executes Mexican National in Defiance of ICJ Rulings

Late Tuesday night, 5 August, the State of Texas executed José Ernesto Medellín, despite a call from the UN Secretary-General urging the United States (US) not to go ahead with the execution and to respect the judgements of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In 2004 the ICJ ruled in the Avena case that the US was obligated to provide a judicial remedy of "review and reconsideration" of the convictions and sentences of José Medellín and 50 other Mexican nationals named in the judgement and in similar situations.

Mexico had turned to the ICJ claiming that the US had violated its obligations under Article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform detained Mexican nationals of their right to consular services after their arrest and for failing to notify the Mexican consulate of their detention.

President Bush ordered Texas to provide such a review, but in March 2008 the US Supreme Court concluded in Medellín v. Texas that the ICJ judgement was not binding on Texas and that the president lacked the constitutional authority to order the state to comply.

In June 2008 Mexico filed a request with the ICJ for interpretation of the Avena judgement on the scope and meaning of the US remedial obligations and applied for the indication of provisional measures of protection. The Court ordered the US Government to "take all measures necessary" to halt the upcoming execution of five Mexicans including Medellín, pending judgement on the request for interpretation.

After the US Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal by Medellín’s lawyers to stop the execution by arguing that it should be postponed until Congress had a chance to pass pending legislation that would require a review of similar cases, José Medellín was put to death by lethal injection.

At the very end of a brief filed in opposition to Medellín’s final appeal Texas makes a statement (pp. 17-18) indicating some kind of concession to the ICJ with regard to other Mexican nationals on death row in Texas and subject to the Avena judgement.

See the April issue of the Suffolk Transnational Law Review which is entirely dedicated to this case under the title: Medellín v. Texas: A Symposium (Vol. 31, No.2, Symposium 2008).

Rwandan Genocide Report.

A report published by President Paul Kagame's government accuses France of complicity in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, by supporting and training Hutu leaders and their militia carrying out the massacres that killed 800.000 people. The so-called 'Mucyo Commission' report names senior French officials, including the country's former president and prime minister among those who should be held responsible for the slaughter of over a million people in 1994. France denies all accusations. In 1998 another report already accused France of contributing to Rwanda’s genocide. A French parliamentary committee acknowledged that mistakes had been made, but cleared France of any responsibility for the killing spree that took place.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Peace and Justice!

On Thursday, 31 July, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1828 (2008) renewing the mandate of UNAMID, the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, for another year (resolution [PDF] and meeting record S/PV.5947 [PDF]).

At the last minute the decision was complicated by the request of the African Union (S/2008/481 [PDF]) for the Security Council to use its power to suspend a possible International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of Sudanese President al-Bashir for genocide, saying that prosecuting Sudan's president might set back the Darfur peace process. Subsequent proposals to include a reference to Article 16 of the ICC statute in the resolution, which allows the Security Council to defer ICC investigations or prosecutions for a period of 12 months, resulted in differences among Council members.

Resolution 1828 (2008) was finally adopted with 14 votes in favour and an abstention by the United States.

Nearly half the Council had made the reference to the ICC a condition for renewing the peacekeeping mandate. The US ambassador to the UN said that, while his country supported the UNAMID mission, it was abstaining because the language on the ICC would send the wrong message when trying to eliminate the climate of impunity and there should be no compromise on the issue of justice.

In paragraph 9 of the preamble of the resolution the Council refers to the African Union's communiqué without mentioning the request:
Taking note of the African Union (AU) communiqué of the 142nd Peace and Security Council (PSC) Meeting dated 21 July, having in mind concerns raised by members of the Council regarding potential developments subsequent to the application by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court of 14 July 2008, and taking note of their intention to consider these matters further”
After the vote was taken, the ambassador of the UK, the resolution’s sponsor, stated that "no position has been taken by the Security Council on the question of whether to take any action on the proposal by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to indict President Al-Bashir." He continued to say that it would not be right to discuss that issue as part of the UNAMID peacekeeping resolution. Although it was the SC itself that had decided in resolution 1593 (2005) that the situation in Darfur warranted an investigation by the ICC, the discussion on whether to invoke Article 16 of the ICC Statute in this case would "raise profound questions about the relation between peace and justice. It is not something the Council should rush into.”

On this issue, see the recent article by Priscilla Hayner: Seeking Justice as War Crimes Rage on. See also the blog by Alex de Waal: Ocampo’s Gauntlet to the UN Security Council.