A First Blog Review

These days, I’m a little overwhelmed with my work at the CICC and my LLM dissertation that is due in two weeks. So instead of giving you a full-fledged entry tonight, I thought of doing a little blog review. I’ve been reading a lot of interesting stuff lately, and for lack of reflecting on an entire issue, I thought I’d share and comment a little on a few posts out there in the blogosphere.

First of all, Alex Lobov’s post at Zeitgeist Politics is an interesting read and sums-up well Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s ordeal in Iran, sentenced to death by stoning, and culminates with a plea against the death penalty in the United States and in the world. Here is an excerpt:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, a sentence that sparked an international outcry over  a practice that many see as archaic and barbaric. Since the initial sentence was handed down, the twists and turns in events since then have moved rapidly.

The initial sentence was handed down by a court in Tabriz in May 2006, she was charged with committing adultery (despite the alleged incident occurring after the death of her husband) and was sentenced to 99 lashes, which was carried out. Then, in September she was convicted by another court, the details of which are still rather shaky, of adultery and of being an accomplice in the murder of her husband. But wait, is she being put to death for adultery? Or for murder? Or for both?

I’ve been thinking of using this story to write a post about international law and the death penalty, but I have not had time as of yet. Stay tuned: maybe I’ll find time this weekend.

Secondly, a very interesting story by Colum Lynch in his Foreign Policy Turtle Bay blog about the Tea Party in the United States and their rather “hostile” (something of an understatement) attitude towards the United Nations. Going far beyond the obvious, Colum Lynch tracks back the roots of the American heartland’s hostility to the UN and multilateralism in general, ever since the days of Founding Father George Washington. Here’s the excerpt:

The Obama administration pays its U.N. bills on time, embraces many U.N. treaties, and routinely praises the sacrifices of UN field workers  — it has even raised the prospect of placing American GIs in blue helmets again. U.S. relations with Turtle Bay have rarely been better.

But the emergence of the Tea Party, a nascent conservative political movement concerned primarily with the size of the U.S. government but also hostile to the United Nations, provides a fresh reminder of the heartland’s deep well of antipathy for the world organization. It should provide a cautionary lesson for those who manage U.S. relations with the U.N.: they can turn bad on a dime, particularly at times of economic stress and national uncertainty. Indeed, after a brief respite, U.N.-bashing is back.

Note that the title of that article is “Attack of the primitives”. As Mr. Lynch explains, the expression comes from former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who used it to characterize the McCarthy affair during the Red Scare and the witch (communist) hunt in the 1950s. To refresh your memory, Dean Acheson was Truman’s Secretary of State and an architect of the Truman Doctrine, and for us international lawyers – the initiator of the the Uniting for Peace General Assembly Resolution.

I have to say, being the French-Bostonian arrogant person that I am, calling the Tea Party’s attacks on the UN “Attack of the primitives” rubs me the right way.

Thirdly, a combination of another of Turtle Bay Colum Lynch’s post (Turtle Bay’s been busy today) and one from Mark Leon Goldberg, in UN Dispatch this time on US-supported international scrutiny into Burma. Turtle Bay reports that the US is now supporting, after failed attempts at outreaching towards the reclused regime, a  UN commission of inquiry into human rights abuse by the Burmese regime. Mark Leon Goldberg builds on that story to reflect on the potential for US support for the International Criminal Court, and eventual ICC involvement in Burma. Here’s an excerpt of the story from UN Dispatch:

Colum Lynch reports that the United States is ready to support a “commission of inquiry” into alleged crimes against humanity in Burma.  The move, he says, comes as the Obama administration recognizes that a policy of engagement is not working.

Make no mistake: this decision could be the first step in a long process that might eventually lead to the indictment of Than Shwe and the Burmese leadership for crimes against humanity. But beyond Burma, it could also set a new standard for how the United States can constructively help direct the work product of the International Criminal Court, even though the United States remains outside its formal structures.

Mr. Goldberg goes on to argue that this could lead to a US strategy that would support the International Criminal Court without ever having to ratify the Rome Statute, and that we might see one day the ICC investigating crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

I think he’s being a bit too optimistic: my gut feeling is that China will never let the Security Council refer the Myanmar situation to the ICC, because that would bring it a bit too close to its own area of influence, and maybe set the ICC’s (and the international community’s) eyes a bit too close to Tibet for comfort. When I suggested this to Mark Goldberg on Twitter, he sent me the link to this report from the International Crisis Group arguing that China often defers to regional organisations, and might fall in line if ASEAN supports the move. I’m still feeling cautious about this: China has grown very assertive these past few years at the UN Security Council – despite a long-standing tradition of abstention rather than veto in the UNSC – and could still block this. But as I told Mark, I hope he’s right and I’m wrong.

Lastly for today, a new blog has made its apparition over at Foreign Policy: the Multilateralist, which will cover international organizations and courts. It is written by David Bosco, an Assistant Professor at American University and author of Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World, a book I have not read yet but will take a look at as soon as I have more time.

A post of his caught my attention recently on the ICC and its difficulties in Africa. It’s short, so I have a hard time finding a comprehensive excerpt without copy-pasting the entire entry. It raises interesting issues, although I disagree with the extent of general African discontentment with the Court. The ICC’s involvement in most of the situations in Africa has been through self-referrals or done in a very cooperative way by the concerned State. The ICC is also getting a lot of support from African civil society and NGOs, and African States are very active in the Assembly of State Parties.

I do agree with him on two points through: first of all, I also believe the Court is looking for a situation outside of Africa, and its involvement in Palestine and especially Colombia deserve close monitoring. That being said, it might take a while, as it’s no secret that the Court has to deal with considerable funding issues in these times of economical crisis.

Secondly, he also mentions that China would be “apoplectic” if the ICC investigated Burma. Sorry, Mark.


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  1. #1 by Mark Kersten on 19 August 2010 - 12:24

    RE: Burma and the ICC

    I don’t think negotiations on setting up a commission to investigate human rights abuses in Burma will be as easy as saying China, a key ally and wary of any focus on Tibet, will veto it. I also don’t think that it is as easy as saying that China will bow to pressure from regional organizations. If negotiations at the UN regarding setting up a committee succeed, it will involve bargaining and trading off certain policy areas, perhaps even concerning Tibet, North Korea and possibly US-Indian relations.

    I also think that any such negotiations will be complicated by precisely the precedent that Goldberg speaks of: that of the UN commission investigating human rights violations in Darfur. Now that there’s a precedent, it will not be easy to assure skeptics that a similar commission to Burma won’t *necessarily* result in pressure for a UNSC referral to the ICC.

    Lastly, while I have long held that the situation in Burma should be referred to the ICC, we must remember that we would be years away from any indictments. It took over 3 years to move from negotiating a commission for Darfur to getting the first indictments and five years to indict al-Bashir. While a commission would be welcome, it shouldn’t take away from the immediate need to alleviate suffering and stop human rights abuses in Burma.

  2. #2 by Xavier Rauscher on 20 August 2010 - 19:48

    Did I say China will veto the Commission? I meant to say that it would veto any SC referral to the ICC on Burma.

  1. David Bosco v. Julian Ku Debate on the ICC, and I’m disagreeing with both « The International Jurist

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