Archive for category United Nations-related News

The War Against Rape

This is a post to praise UN Security Council Resolution 1960, passed on December 16 2010, which constitutes a step further to stop sexual assaults against women.

It finally allows public shaming of armed groups who have been proven to sexually abuse women. It also spells out instructions to end the practice and avoid future shaming. However most importantly sends a clear message that using rape as a weapon of war can lead to sanctions. The reason I bold rape as a weapon of war, is because I find it to be an under looked point, and one of the most serious war crimes. This type of sexual abuse is man’s lowest quality, and the worst form of obsession. No woman should be degraded in this manner.

So I would like to congratulate the UN Security Council for this strong step to stop these harness abuses, and quote Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“Today is a big day for women worldwide.”

Of course as a side point which I often mention at the end of my posts, the question that arises is: why has this taken so long to be achieved?


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Inspired by Karl Rove…

As one journalist states – and I agree – “…the United States of America has the moral duty and legal obligation to go after each and every one of those involved in the illegal acts of butchery in Afghanistan and Iraq, following up and holding them responsible for the consequences of these acts and holding accountable each and every person involved in the decision-making process, however high their position in the pyramid may have been.” The notion of command responsibility seems conveniently absent from the minds of American policy-makers. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “a wall of impunity surrounds the architects of the policies responsible for the larger pattern of abuses.”

Ah. Let us take a moment to re-read that last sentence. This time focus on the word “architect”. Architect…perhaps as in, Karl Rove, widely known as “The Architect” for Bush’s reelection and subsequent policies?  Read the rest of this entry »

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The UN and this brave new world.

“Despite all criticism, the UN remains the world’s premier supranational forum. As such, it may be the best hope for tackling global issues,” suggested the Carnegie Council in 2006. Four years later, these words are still true, but it’s becoming increasingly common to hear the UN described as “weak” and “irrelevant”. However, considering the antiquated balance of power in the organization, do countries have an incentive to engage more fully in the UN system?

In an interview with Turtle Bay, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the new assertiveness of emerging powers like Turkey and Brazil “should not be seen as a new game” aimed at altering the balance of power at the United Nations. I appreciate the sentiment, Mr Davutoglu (after all, who wants to piss off the P5?), but perhaps it is time to consider that the balance of power at the UN really should be altered.

When it comes to Security Council reform, there are two conversations that can take place: what should happen, or what can happen. Should the system reflect the world as it was immediately following World War II? No. Should five countries hold permanent seats? No. Should those same five `countries have the ability to use the veto power to enhance their political sway? No. Should a veto power even exist? I don’t think so. In the words of Kevin Rudd, Australia’s minister of foreign affairs, “The international community can no longer tolerate the actions of a few dissenting states to roadblock the common resolve of the many…If we fail to make the UN work, to make its institutions relevant to the great challenges we all now face, the uncomfortable fact is that the UN will become a hollow shell.”

Could it be that the reluctance of the P5 to surrender any of their power is actually good for the UN’s image? If the UN were truly an irrelevant and stagnant body, powerful states wouldn’t care so much about their standings as members. By holding on so tightly to veto power, the P5 is admitting that the UN is actually a organization capable of big things.

Let’s face it – the veto power and permanent members of the Security Council aren’t going anywhere, but this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing game. India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany are all seeking a permanent seat on the council, and US Under-Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns stated, “For countries like India and for other countries, we need very much to consider how their increasing role in global affairs is matched by the responsibilities that they can discharge in the most important parts of the international architecture.” We also need to consider the role of the aforementioned countries in the UN itself – Japan and Germany are, respectively, the second and third largest UN funders, and Brazil and India are two of the largest contributors to UN-mandated peacekeeping missions. Similarly, Africa, which has more UN members than every other continent, doesn’t include a state that’s a permanent member. Already, the US, France, and the UK have issued formal statements that support Council reform and expansion.

As said by Turkish President Abdullah Gul to the General Assembly last week, “”We should keep in mind that global problems cannot be solved unilaterally, bilaterally or in small circles of like-minded nations.”


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Why Does the Kosovo Opinion Not Grant Kosovo Its Independence?

Last week, the International Court of Justice delivered its advisory opinion (PDF file) on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It considered that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not illegal but did not go as far as officially recognizing Kosovo’s independence in a positive manner. This caused a lot of confusion for many people – including the mainstream media – trying to understand what the ICJ said. This post attempts to clarify what the Court said, why it said what it said, and what the consequences are.

As Justine has noted in her post a few days ago, paragraph 56 is particularly interesting in its display of how the Court defined the question (it goes without saying that the emphasis is mine):

56. The question put to the Supreme Court of Canada inquired whether there was a right to “effect secession”, and whether there was a rule of international law which conferred a positive entitlement on any of the organs named. By contrast, the General Assembly has asked whether the declaration of independence was “in accordance with” international law. The answer to that question turns on whether or not the applicable international law prohibited the declaration of independence. If the Court concludes that it did, then it must answer the question put by saying that the declaration of independence was not in accordance with international law. It follows that the task which the Court is called upon to perform is to determine whether or not the declaration of independence was adopted in violation of international law. The Court is not required by the question it has been asked to take a position on whether international law conferred a positive entitlement on Kosovo unilaterally to declare its independence or, afortiori, on whether international law generally confers an entitlement on entities situated within a State unilaterally to break away from it. Indeed, it is entirely possible for a particular act ⎯ such as a unilateral declaration of independence ⎯ not to be in violation of international law without necessarily constituting the exercise of a right conferred by it. The Court has been asked for an opinion on the first point, not the second.

It must be noted that for many international lawyers, this strict interpretation of the question that was asked to the Court by the General Assembly of the United Nations – “Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?” – in Resolution 63/3 on 8 October 2008 is particularly frustrating, as we all (more or less) secretly expected a much bigger bombshell to come out of the Peace Palace in The Hague (no pun intended). Read the rest of this entry »

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Be Careful What You Ask For

A few days after the International Court of Justice has delivered its advisory opinion on Kosovo’s independence its website is still not operating normally. The situation is seen by many as an important precedent for people seeking independence. While many media have seen the judgement as the ICJ giving the green light to independence of Kosovo, the topic was the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

The ICJ has now declared that that declaration was legal or to put it more carefully (as the Court did) no international legal provision can be found to doubt the legality of the declaration. This is very good news for the government (it seems we no longer have to add brackets) of Kosovo. Especially since it emerged earlier this week that the trial against Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo’s former prime minister, needs a partial re-trial. Read the full article

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re Homosexuality and the International Community

This is just an update for those who read my earlier post about Homosexuality and the International Community.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission have received ECOSOC UN Status.

After their hard battle with seemingly never-ending deadlocks to their success, the ECOSOC voted in favour of the US lead resolution to grant the IGLHRC the status they have worked so hard for. The resolution came at a vote of 23 in favor, 13 against, and 13 abstentions and 5 absences. This vote makes the IGLHRC the tenth organization working primarily for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights to receive UN Status. It is hoped this success is a big step to furthering Homosexual rights in the international community.

As Cary Alan Johnson stated

Today’s decision is an affirmation that the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have a place at the United Nations as part of a vital civil society community

So a big well done to International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for winning their three-year battle.

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Sri Lanka vs. UN: 1 – 0

As international lawyers, we are made well aware from the beginning that the “international rule of law” that we work and hope for is a fragile and imperfect concept, constantly challenged by realpolitik and the Westphalian State-centric international system. The current situation in Sri Lanka is a testament to the difficulty of establishing that international rule of law.

So what is going on in Sri Lanka? This week, hundreds of protesters, under the leadership of a (now former) government minister, have laid siege to the United Nations compound in Colombo, refusing to let workers out until the U.N. cancels its investigation of alleged abuses (second edit: Bad choice of words, the UN is not investigating abuses, only thinking of ways to punish the alleged crimes. The UN has no direct jurisdiction over war crimes: they’d have to refer it to the ICC, or create a new ad hoc tribunal) committed during the 25-year civil war there. Demonstrators burned effigies of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and blocked the police’s attempt to free the workers.

To understand the reason behind this violence directly targeted at the United Nations, a brief summary of events is required. Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a large island off the coast of India in which a civil war that has lasted for more than 25 years was brought to a bloody end last year. The civil war, which has opposed since its start in 1983 the Sri Lankan government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, but more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers) who fought to create an independent state on the island for the Tamil minority. During the first half of 2009, the Sri Lankan army defeated, at last, the LTTE by resorting to methods that involved heavy bombings, including of civilians and hospitals, torture, and the holding of everyone, combatants and non-combatants, in prison camps that were out-of-bounds to journalists and international non-governmental organizations. Edit: I should mention that government forces are not the only ones suspected of having committed war crimes. The LTTE are also accused of breaches of international humanitarian law such as the use of human shields (see below in comments).

The United Nations vs. Sri Lanka. Following the Sri Lankan victory, the United Nations was put under pressure for its passivity during the conflict, in particular by Louise Arbour, the head of the International Crisis Group (ICG). The ICG published a report in May 2010 in which it denounced the breaches of international humanitarian law by both the government and the LTTE during the final months of the conflict. In an interview with Foreign Policy editor and Washington Post U.N. correspondent Colum Lynch, Arbour – a well respected lawyer from Canada, who contributed to the success of the International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia as its Chief Prosecutor from 1996 to 1999, as well as a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Supreme Court Justice of Canada – directly criticized the UN for its inaction during the final months of the Sri Lankan conflict and its failure to push for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes afterwards.

Ban Ki-Moon has since named a three-member panel composed of Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner from the U.S charged with finding ways to punish the alleged war crimes. The creation of the panel has sparked criticism from international heavyweights Russia and China, which both wield veto power at the UN Security Council, and that may cause trouble in the future. The Non-Aligned Movement, composed of 188 developing countries, also support Sri Lanka‘s refusal to investigate war crimes.

It is in “protest” (if we can call it that) against this panel and its work that nationalist mobs have been holding U.N. employees prisoner in their own offices.

Epilogue? The end of the story, at least for now, is that the U.N. are retreating from Sri Lanka. Ban Ki-Moon has recalled the resident coordinator in Sri Lanka and decided to close the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Center in Colombo. The Secretary General maintains however that the panel will continue with its work.

A dangerous precedent must not be allowed to be set. The situation in Sri Lanka, as it stands today, cannot be tolerated by the international community, and this for two reasons.

First of all, the United Nations is a respected, legitimate international organization concerned with international peace and security. It is unacceptable that a State, and a Member State at that, can bully the UN towards the door using methods worthy of thugs. Allow me to cite a short excerpt from the United Nations Charter that is unfortunately way too often forgotten:

Article 2(5): All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.

(Emphasis is mine)

Way to go on that one, Sri Lanka. Such actions only contribute to decredibilizing the UN’s actions when – for all its faults – millions of lives worldwide depend on it.

Second of all, and perhaps even more importantly, I concur with Mark Goldberg’s analysis over at UN Dispatch that accountability for war crimes matters. Not only does it matter, it is essential. In war, the means must never justify the end, and yet the Sri Lankan army has (allegedly) gone to great and bloody lengths to put an end to the civil war, defying elementary rules of international humanitarian law such as the principle of proportionality and the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants. As Mark Goldberg writes: “if these crimes go unpunished, what is stopping other countries with persistent insurgencies to adopt the “Sri Lankan method” of fighting terrorism? The answer is nothing.

Today’s international context is (at least in part) about the global fight on terrorism, and all the dangers that it involves, as has been often observed (Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base, etc.) It is the responsibility of the international community, and of the UN Security Council in particular, to guarantee global peace and security, and that is clearly under threat when we allow for such ruthless violence to go without consequences.

With the forced withdrawal of the United Nations from Sri Lanka due to an investigation into war crimes, the international rule of law has suffered a great blow and humiliation. It is the international community’s responsibility, and its interest, not to let that humiliation go unpunished. Will it rise to the challenge? Nothing is less sure.

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