Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era

As previously indicated, the history of refugees and asylum, in my opinion, may be divided into two major periods: the pre-modern era (before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948) and the modern era (after that adoption).[1] We now examine that Declaration and its implementation in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations Charter, which entered into force on October 24, 1945, created the Economic and Social Council in Chapter X. Under Article 68 of the Charter, this Council was to establish a commission for the promotion of human rights.[2]

In early 1946 this Council created a committee to make recommendations on the structure and functions of such a commission. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and eight others were appointed to this committee, and she was elected its chair. It recommended that the first project of the new commission should be the writing a bill of human rights. Thereafter, in June 1946, the Council created the U.N. Human Rights Commission and directed it to prepare an international bill of human rights.[3]

In January 1947 the Human Rights Commission held its first meeting and elected Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair.[4]

At the Commission’s June 1947 meeting Great Britain proposed preparing a covenant or treaty of human rights, rather than a declaration full of high-sounding generalities. The U.S., however, favored a broad declaration followed by treaties. The U.S. position appears to have been a strategy to avoid the U.S. Senate ratification process that constitutionally was necessary for ratification of treaties, but was not required for U.S. voting in the U.N. General Assembly. Remember that President Truman was heading into the 1948 presidential election and did not want to provoke a Senate vote he might lose. In any event, the Commission decided to work on both a declaration and covenants.[5]

In December 1948 (only one month after Truman won the presidential election), the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration: 48 in favor (including the U.S.); 0 against; 8 abstentions (the USSR and its allies, South Africa and Saudi Arabia); and 2 absences.[6]

Eleanor Roosevelt & UDHR

The Declaration had two important provisions relevant to refugees and asylum. Its Article 13(2) stated, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article  14(1) went on to say, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

Even though the Declaration was not a treaty that created legal obligations for subscribing states, its declaring that every individual human being had a right to asylum was a historic departure from the pre-modern era where asylum was a matter of discretion for the protecting state. This provision also set an objective for the treaty on refugees then being formulated. These provisions of the Universal Declaration, in my opinion, also constitute an atonement for the failure of the civilized world in the 1930’s to protect German Jewish refugees.

In any event, ever since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has set the agenda for the subsequent development of international human rights treaties. The Declaration also continues to act as an inspirational and aspirational document throughout the world, as I discovered on my first visit to El Salvador in April 1989.[8]

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

 

On July 2, 1951, an international conference in Geneva, Switzerland concluded with the signing of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by the conference attendees and the opening of the treaty for accession or ratification by nation states.[9] By its Article 43(1) it was to enter into force or become a binding treaty 90 days after the sixth state had acceded or ratified the treaty. That happened on April 22, 1954.[10]

Its preamble noted that the U.N. had “manifested its profound concern for refugees and endeavored to assure refugees the widest possible exercise of . . . fundamental rights and freedoms.” The preamble also stated, “the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and . . . a satisfactory solution of a problem . . . [of] international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international cooperation.”

This treaty adopted the following definition of “refugee” in Article 1(A)(2) as any person who:

  • “[As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951] and owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The bracketed phrase [“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951”] was the provision that limited the coverage of the Convention to the problems still being faced by many World War II refugees still scattered across Europe. This limiting phrase was eliminated in the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees discussed below.

Excluded from the definition of “refugee” in Article 1(F) was “any person . . . [who] (a) . . . has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity . . . ; (b) . . . has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee; [and] (c) . . . has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the [U.N.].”[11]

The Convention granted refugees certain rights within a country of refuge as well as imposing on them certain obligations. The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their “illegal entry or presence.” This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum.

Importantly, the Convention contains various safeguards against the expulsion of refugees. Its Article 33(1) states, “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

By 1966, it had become apparent that new refugee situations had arisen since the Refugee Convention had been adopted and that all refugees should enjoy equal status. As a result, a new treaty was prepared to eliminate the previously mentioned limitation of the Convention to those refugees created by pre-1951 events. This was the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that went into force on October 4, 1967.[12]

Parties to the Convention or Protocol

As of April 1, 2011, there were 145 nation states (and the Holy See) that were parties to the Convention and Protocol or the latter, including the U.S. That represents 76.2% of the U.N. members (plus the Holy See).[13]

Conclusion

In subsequent posts we will review (a) the work of the principal U.N. agency concerned with refugees (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees); (b) U.S. law and procedures for refugees; and (c) U.S. law and procedures for asylum.


[1]  See Post: Refugees and Asylum Law: The Pre-Modern Era (July 7, 2011).

[3] See Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House 2002)(fascinating history of the development of the Universal Declaration).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6]  Id.

[8]  See Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

[9] UNHCR, 1951 Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search/?page=&comid=3c07a8642&cid=49aea9390&scid=49aea9398.

[10]  UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html; UNHCR, The 1951 Refugee Convention: Questions and Answers (2007), http://www.unhcr.org/3c0f495f4.html.

[11] There are certain other stated exclusions from the definition of “refugee” in Article 1(C), (D), (E).

[12] Id.

[13]  UNHCR, States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol,        http://www.unhcr.org/3b73b0d63.html. In addition Madagascar and St. Kitts & Nevis are parties only to the Convention with its now outmoded temporal limitations. (Id.)

 

Refugee and Asylum Law: The Pre-Modern Era

The history of refugee and asylum law, in my opinion, may be divided into two major periods: (a) the pre-modern era before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and (b) the modern era starting with that 1948 adoption.[1] There are four major points from this earlier period that have impressed me.

First, there have been instances when individual states granted protection or asylum to people of another state, but the granting of such protection was always within the discretion or grace of the potential protecting state. Whether or not this was done was influenced by a multitude of circumstances. Correspondingly the individual fleeing his or her own country had no legal right to claim protection from another state. An interesting example of this type of asylum happened in 615 CE, when Mohammad requested his cousin and other followers to leave Mecca and seek refuge in Abyssinia or Ethiopia to escape persecution by Mecca’s leading tribe. This is known as the First Hijra (Migration) of Muslims. At the time, the King of Abyssinia was a Christian and known for his justice and respect for human beings. Responding to a letter from Mohammad, the King said he understood that Mohammad respected Jesus and, therefore, granted asylum to the Muslims.[2]

Second, as we have just seen, religious belief sometimes has motivated a government to grant asylum in this earlier period. In addition, religious bodies and individuals often call upon their members and fellow believers to be hospitable to outsiders such as those fleeing persecution. In Judaism and Christianity, for example, there are numerous Biblical texts to this effect. In the Hebrew Bible, the people are told, “Do no mistreat an alien or oppress him for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 222:21.) Similarly, “You are to have the same law for the alien and for the native born.” (Leviticus 24:22.) In the New Testament, Jesus when asked what the greatest commandment was, said, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39.)[3] Similarly Arabic traditions and customs have served as a solid foundation for protecting human beings and preserving their dignity. These include “istijara” (plea for protection), “ijara” (granting protection) and “iwaa” (sheltering). The Islamic Shari’a further consolidated the humanitarian principles of brotherhood, equality and tolerance among human beings. Relieving suffering and assisting, sheltering, and granting safety to the needy, even enemies, are an integral part of Islamic Shari’a. In fact,  Islamic Shari’a addressed the issue of asylum explicitly and in detail, and guaranteed safety, dignity and care for the “musta’men” (asylum-seeker). Moreover, the return, or refoulement, of the “musta’men” was prohibited by virtue of Shari’a.[4]

Third, after World War I, the Covenant of the League of Nations did not have any explicit provision regarding refugees. The closest it came was its Article 25, which states, “The Members of the League agree to encourage and promote the establishment and co-operation of duly authorised [sic] voluntary national Red Cross organisations [sic] having as purposes the improvement of health, the prevention of disease and the mitigation of suffering throughout the world.”[5] There also were various treaties regarding refugees in the 1920s and 1930s, but they did not grant legal rights to asylum.[6]       Fourth, German persecution of the Jews in the 1930s showed the weaknesses of this discretionary approach to asylum. In 1933 the Nazis took over control of the German government and fired Jews from the civil service and sponsored boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses.  Germany also started an official encouragement of German Jewish emigration, and in September 1935 Germany’s Nuremberg Laws cancelled German citizenship for Jews. By the end of 1937 450,000 German Jews had left the country.[7] In March of 1938 German annexed Austria (das Anschluss) and thereby brought the 200,000 Austrian Jews under German laws, including the Nuremberg Laws.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Evian Conference

Several days later U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to call an international conference to facilitate the emigration of Jews from Germany and Austria and to establish an international organization to work towards an overall solution to this problem. That July the conference was held in Evian, France. Thirty-two countries attended and expressed sympathy for the refugees. With one exception, however, no country agreed to take additional Jewish refugees. The exception was the Dominican Republic, and it did so because its dictator, Trujillo, wanted more white people in his country. The Conference also created the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees to “approach the governments of the countries of refuge with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement.” It also was to seek German cooperation in establishing “conditions of orderly emigration.” This Committee, however, never received the necessary authority or support from its members and, therefore, failed to accomplish anything. After the conference, Hitler said, “It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them . . . .” Moreover, the failure of the Conference to do anything about the German Jews was seen as an encouragement for Germany’s increasing persecution of the Jews, including Kristallnachtin October 1938 and the Holocaust itself through the end of World War II in 1945.


[1]  I have not studied what I can the pre-modern era in great depth and especially invite comments and critiques of this analysis.
[3] Religious beliefs motivated most, if not all, of those people and congregations that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s to provide safe space to Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing their civil wars. See Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011).
[4] Prof. Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari’ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study (Riyadh – 2009 (1430 H.), http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=4a9645646&query=sharia.
[5]  Covenant of the League of Nations, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp#art25; Holborn, The Legal Status of Political Refugees, 32 Am. J. Int’l L. 680 (1938); Holborn, The League of Nations and the Refugee Problem, 203 Annals Am. Acad. Of Pol. & Soc. Sci. 124 (1939).
[6]  A list of these treaties is set forth in Article 1(A)(1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/refugees.htm.
[7] E.g., U.S. Holocaust Museum, The Evian Conference, http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007698 ; U.S. Holocaust Museum, Emigration and the Evian Conference, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005520 ; Annette Shaw, The Evian Conference–Hitler’s Green Light for Genocide, http://www.cdn-friends-icej.ca/antiholo/evian/evian.html; Wikipedia, Evian Conference, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89vian_Conference.

International Criminal Justice: Libya, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda and Serbia Developments

Over the last several weeks there have been important developments regarding the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

ICTR.

As we already have seen, the ICTR is winding down to complete its work by July 1, 2012, and one of the ways it is doing so is referring some cases to national judicial systems.[1] On June 26th, the ICTR referred one of its cases to the Rwandan national courts, the first time it had ever done so. It did so because there was evidence that Rwanda had made material changes to its laws and now had the capacity and intention to prosecute such cases in accordance with international standards of fair trial and human rights. The ICTR suggested that the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights monitor the proceedings and notify the ICTR of any problems for its possible revocation of the referral.[2]

On June 24th the ICTR announced the conviction of six defendants in the Butare case for genocide and related crimes. They received sentences from 25 years to life.[3]

Finally the recently arrested Bernard Munyagishari made his initial appearance before the ICTR and pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity (murder and rape) of Tutsi women.[4]

ICTY.

On June 29th the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1993 to extend the terms of office of the ICTY judges until December 31, 2012. It did so to facilitate the ICTY’s completing the trial of all of its pending prosecutions. The resolution also called for all States, especially the States of the former Yugoslavia, to intensify cooperation with, and assistance to, the ICTY, including the arrest of Goran Hadzic.[5]

On July 4th Ratko Mladic made his initial appearance before the ICTY and refused to enter pleas  because he said he was not represented by lawyers of his choice. After he had repeatedly and loudly interrupted the proceedings, the judges ordered him removed from the courtroom and thereafter entered pleas of not guilty on his behalf. He faces charges of genocide and war crimes.[6]

ICC

There have been significant developments regarding the Libyan, Sudan (Darfur) and Kenyan  investigations and prosecutions by the ICC. Many of these developments involve the ICC’s tense relations with the African Union (AU) as will be seen below.

Libya. As previously reported, the ICC on June 27th authorized the issuance of arrest warrants for Colonel Muammar Gadhafi and two others for crimes against humanity in Libya since February 15, 2011. The ICC Prosecutor has emphasized the importance and difficulty of making the actual arrests of these three individuals.[7]

On July 2nd the execution of these ICC arrest warrants was made even more difficult by a resolution adopted by the AU. It recommended that its 53 member-states “not cooperate in the execution of the arrest warrant” for Colonel Gadhafi.  This warrant, the AU said, “seriously complicates the efforts aimed at finding a negotiated political solution to the crisis in Libya which will also address, in a mutually-reinforcing way, issues relating to impunity and reconciliation.” This decision increases the chances for Gadhafi to avoid ICC prosecution by obtaining refuge in another African country. The AU also requested the U.N. Security Council to exercise its authority under Article 16 of the ICC’s Rome Statute to defer or stay the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions regarding Libya for one year.[8]

This AU resolution conflicts with the obligations of the 32 African states that are parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute. Its Article 86 obligates them to “cooperate fully with the Court in its investigation and prosecution of crimes within [its] jurisdiction.”

Sudan. Pursuant to U.N. Security Council referral, the ICC Prosecutor has been conducting investigations and prosecutions regarding the Sudan (Darfur). One of the prosecutions has been of the Sudanese President Bashir.[9]

The just noted inherent difficulties of enforcing ICC arrest warrants has also been in the news with respect to the recent trip to China by President Bashir.[10] His earlier trips to other African countries (Chad, Kenya and Djibouti) that are ICC States Parties have been defended by the AU as consistent with these countries’ obligations under the AU’s Constitutive Act and Article 98 of the Rome Statute as well as their efforts to promote peace and stability in their regions.[11]

In the meantime, violence continues in Sudan.[12] The AU Summit issued nice-sounding words about the need for a peaceful transition in Sudan. This included a more general request to the U.N. Security Council to defer all ICC investigations and prosecutions regarding Sudan for one year. [13]

Kenya. As previously reported, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber on March 31, 2010, authorized the Prosecutor to commence an investigation of post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008, and on March 8, 2011, that Chamber authorized the issuance of six arrest summonses.[14]

At its recent Summit, the AU stressed the need to pursue all efforts to have the U.N. Security Council use its authority under Article 16 of the Rome Statute to defer or stay the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions regarding Kenya for one year. Such a deferral, the AU stated, would enable an investigation and prosecution by a reformed Kenyan judiciary in accordance with the ICC’s principle of complementarity. [15]

U.N. Security Council.

As we have just seen, all of the current ICC investigations and prosecutions come from Africa, two upon referrals by the U.N. Security Council and all of which potentially are subject to deferral by the Council. Thus, it is not surprising that the AU at its recent Summit meeting re-emphasized its desire for reform of the U.N. Security Council in order “to correct . . . the historical injustice done to the [African] continent, which continues to be unrepresented in the permanent category and under-represented in the non-permanent category of the . . . [Council].”[16]

To this end, the AU reaffirmed its Ezulwini Consensus on proposed U.N. reforms. With respect to the Security Council, this Consensus called for Africa to have two permanent and five non-permanent members on a reformed Council as chosen by the AU.[17]


[1] Post: International Criminal Justice: Winding Down Two Ad Hoc Criminal Tribunals (June 18, 2011).

[2] ICTR Press Release, Case of Jean Uwinkindi Referred for Trial to the Republic of Rwanda (June 28, 2011); Reuters, U.N. Court Refers Genocide Case to Rwanda, N.Y. Times (June 28, 2011). Uwinkindi is a former Pentecostal pastor who has been accused of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity (extermination) against the Tutsi people. (Id.)

[3] ICTR Press Release, Butare Judgment Released (June 24, 2011)

[4] ICTR Press Release, Bernard Munyagishari Pleads Not Guilty (June 20, 2011).

[5]  U.N. Security Council Press Release, Terms of 17 Judges with [ICTY] Extended (June 29, 2011); ICTY Press Release, Security Council extends Terms of ICTY Judges and Calls for Increased Cooperation with the Tribunal (June 30, 2011).

[6] Reuters, Mladic to ‘boycott war crimes hearing,’ Guardian (July 4, 2011); Simons & Cowell, Hague Judge Orders Mladic Removed From Courtroom, N.Y. Times (July 4, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic To Face Charges at ICTY (May 27, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic Update (June 1, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Winding Down Two Ad Hoc Criminal Tribunals (June 18, 2011).

[7]  See Post: The International  Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: The International  Criminal Court’s Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011); Post: The International  Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: The International  Criminal Court: Investigation of Gang-Rape in Libya (May 17, 2011); Post: The International  Criminal Court: Issuance of Libyan Arrest Warrants and Other Developments (June 27, 2011); Stephen, Muammar Gaddafi war crimes files revealed, Guardian (June 18, 2011); Fahim, Claims of Wartime Rapes Unsettle and Divide Libyans, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2011).

[8]  Associated Press, AU Members Agree to Disregard ICC Gadhafi Warrant, N.Y. Times (July 2, 2011); Associated Press, African Union calls on member states to disregard ICC arrest warrant against Libya’s Gadhafi, Wash. Post (July 2, 2011); Amann, AU v. ICC, yet another round (July 3, 2011), http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com/2011/07/au-v-icc-yet-another-round.html; AU Comm’n, Decisions adopted during the 17th African Union Summit (July 4, 2011), http://www.starafrica.com/en/news. Less than three weeks earlier the AU told the U.N. Security Council that the AU will not hide from its responsibility to help resolve the Libyan conflict. (U.N. Security Council, Press Release: African Union Will Never Hide from Responsibilities in Resolving Libyan Conflict (June 15, 2011).

[9]  See Post: The International  Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: The International  Criminal Court’s Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[10] Post: International Criminal Court: ICC Prosecutor Updates U.N. Security Council on Sudan (Darfur) (June 17, 2011); Higgins, Oil interests tie China to Sudan leader Bashir, even as he faces genocide charges, Wash. Post (June 22, 2011); Associated Press, Embattled Sudan president visits chief diplomatic backer, China, Wash. Post (June 29, 2011); Wines, Sudanese Leader Is Welcomed in Visit to China (June 29, 2011); Associated Press, UN: China Should Have Arrested Al-Bashir, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2011) (U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights).

[11] AU Comm’n, Decisions adopted during the 17th African Union Summit (July 4, 2011), http://www.starafrica.com/en/news.

[12]  Post: International Criminal Court: ICC Prosecutor Updates U.N. Security Council on Sudan (Darfur) (June 17, 2011); Gettleman, Sudan to Pull Troops From Abyei and Allow Peacekeepers, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2011); Kron, Ethnic Killings by Army Reported in Sudanese Mountains, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2011); Gettleman, As Secesssion Nears, Sudan Steps Up Drive to Stop Rebels, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2011); Bilefsky, U.N. Approves Troop Deployment in Sudan, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2011); Gettleman, Sudan Signs Pact With Opposition Forces, N.Y. Times (June 28, 2011); Reuters, Two Sudans to Create a Buffer Zone, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2011); Kristof, Yet Again in Sudan (June 29, 2011)(Sudanese government conducting vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, murder and rape in Nuba Mountains); Gettleman, Another Area Girds for Revolt as Sudan Approaches a Split, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2011); Reuters, Sudan President [Bashir] vows to Fight, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2011); Gettleman, Sudanese Struggle to Survive Endless Bombings Aimed to Quell Rebels, N.Y. Times (July 3, 2011); Fagotto, Sudan partition leaves rebel Nuba region feeling betrayed, Guardian (July 3, 2011); Reuters, North and South Sudan Delay Talks Until After Split, N.Y. Times (July 4, 2011); Associated Press, Sudan President to Speak at S. Sudan Independence, N.Y. times (July 4, 2011).

[13] AU Comm’n, Decisions adopted during the 17th African Union Summit (July 4, 2011), http://www.starafrica.com/en/news.

[14]  Post: The International Criminal Court’s Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[15] AU Comm’n, Decisions adopted during the 17th African Union Summit (July 4, 2011), http://www.starafrica.com/en/news.

[16]  Id.

[17] Au, Elzwini Consensus  (March 8, 2005).

Teaching the International Human Rights Course

UM Law School Building
Prof. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin

After I had audited the International Human Rights Law course at the University of Minnesota Law School in the Fall of 2001, Professor David Weissbrodt asked if I wanted to help him teachthe course. Given the vast disparity between his and my knowledge of the field, I thought he was joking. “David,” I said, “you don’t need any help.” But he persisted, and I relented and accepted his offer. I then served as an Adjunct Professor at the Law School for nine years, 2002-2010.

The course continued to have the same outline and structure that I had experienced in my auditing the course in the Fall of 2001,[1] and we continued to use the same book.[2] Professors Weissbrodt and Frey still taught most of the class sessions and later were joined by another expert in the field, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin.[3]

Professor Weissbrodt and I decided that I would teach two class sessions. One was on refugee and asylum law that built on my experience as a pro bono asylum lawyer. The other was on civil litigation over foreign human rights abuses in U.S. federal courts that took advantage of my considerable experience litigating civil cases in these courts.

Each year to prepare for my two class sessions, I conducted legal research to learn about the many new developments in order to write supplements for the chapters on these subjects. I also assisted in the rewriting of these chapters for the fourth edition of the book that came out in 2009.[4] I thereby continued to use my legal research and writing skills.

This involvement also guided my online reading of various U.S. and foreign newspapers and periodicals and to the creation of a system for email distribution of interesting articles on human rights to friends and colleagues. Many of these articles later became incorporated into the annual supplements for the two chapters that I prepared.

I decided that I would use moot courts for my two class sessions. For refugee and asylum law, four students volunteered to be lawyers for an asylum applicant and the U.S. Government for closing arguments before me, acting as an Immigration Judge in the Minnesota office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS and n/k/a Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). For the other session, four additional students volunteered to be the lawyers for a corporate defendant and a foreign plaintiff in a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The moot court was before me acting as the district judge on the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint alleging the corporation had aided and abetted human rights violations in a foreign country.

In addition to being one way to learn about the substantive law, the moot courts, in my opinion, had other advantages. I thought that the moot court approach would show the students how they could become involved in international human rights while engaged in a regular legal practice in the Twin Cities or anywhere else in the U.S. Given the strength of the international human rights program at the University of Minnesota Law School, many of its graduates have gone on to be lawyers for various U.N. agencies and international human rights NGOs, but most graduates become ordinary practicing lawyers. I also wanted to emphasize the importance of a lawyer’s work at the trial court level, rather than the typical law school moot court experience of arguing before a mock appellate court like the Minnesota or U.S. Supreme Court. Most litigators have much more experience at the trial court level and rarely, if ever, argue a case before the highest court of the state or the U.S. Finally it gave the participating students the opportunity to practice and develop their oral advocacy skills.

For each of the moot court sessions, I held preparatory meetings with the student-lawyers. I gave them guidance on what to expect and answered their questions about the substantive and procedural issues. A strong enjoyable mentorship relationship developed from this total experience.

As part of the moot court exercises, I emphasized to all the students the importance of a lawyer’s knowing the background and views of the judges before whom they appear.

The hypothetical district judge in the lawsuit over foreign human rights violations, for example, had excellent credentials. Appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, the judge was intelligent, honest, hard-working, fair and with a lot of experience on many kinds of civil and criminal cases. The judge, however, had never studied international human rights and along with the fellow judges in his court and his supervising court (the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals) has never had a case like this under the Alien Tort Statute. As a result, the lawyers for this moot court needed to explain the case thoroughly and clearly. (Fortunately the judge had a law clerk who had studied the subject at the University of Minnesota Law School.)

The hypothetical immigration judge, on the other hand, has tried many asylum cases and has a thorough knowledge of the relevant law. This judge also was intelligent, honest, hard-working and fair. As a result, in this moot court there is no need to explain asylum law to the immigration judge. Instead, the attorney needs to focus on the facts of the instant case. Such judges, it should be noted, do not have lifetime appointments. Instead, they are appointed by the U.S. Attorney General as attorneys in the Department of Justice with no fixed term of office and are subject to discretionary removal and transfer by the Attorney General.

Soon after the classes were over, I sent email critiques of the students’ performance. Invariably the students rose to the challenge and made excellent arguments. I also usually issued a hypothetical decision on the dismissal motion and on the asylum request.

I also attended many other class sessions and the presentations by outside speakers in the course as well as various conferences at the Law School. As a result, I continued to learn more about the field.

Outside the classroom I was available to talk with students about the course and more generally about practicing law and other issues. I welcomed this opportunity to learn more about those who were getting ready to pursue various legal careers. I especially enjoyed getting to know the many foreign students in the course, some of whom were Hubert Humphrey Fellows. (My wife and I also volunteered to be a host family for Fellows from Ecuador, El Salvador and Brazil.)

Museum of Republic, Rio de Janeiro
Profs. Duane Krohnke & Elizabeth Sussekind @ Museum of Republic

 

My friendship with a Humphrey Fellow from Brazil resulted in her inviting me to participate in a symposium at the Museum of the Republic in Rio de Janeiro in the Fall of 2009. The symposium was the concluding event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Brazilian constitution of 1988 that ended its military dictatorship. This symposium focused on Memory and Justice, and my paper on the Truth Commission for El Salvador provided a Latin American perspective on Brazil’s not having had a similar truth commission.[5]

I thoroughly enjoyed these many aspects of having been an adjunct professor. I never would have had these experiences if I had continued practicing law after 2001. I, therefore, view them as confirmation of the wisdom of my decision to retire from lawyering that year.[6]


[1] See Post: Auditing the International Human Rights Law Course (June 30, 2011).

[2] David Weissbrodt, Joan Fitzpatrick & Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process (3d ed. 2001).

[3] University of Minnesota Law School, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin,  http://www.law.umn.edu/facultyprofiles/niaolainf.html.

[4]  David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Joan Fitzpatrick & Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process (4th ed. 2009).

[5] Museu da Republica, Memoria e Justica (2009).

[6] Post: Retiring from Lawyering (April 22, 2011).

International Criminal Court: Issuance of Libyan Arrest Warrants and Other Developments

On June 27th, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber issued warrants of arrest for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi for crimes against humanity (murder and persecution) allegedly committed across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011, through the State apparatus and Security Forces.[1]

The Chamber concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the three suspects committed the alleged crimes and that their arrests appear necessary in order to ensure their appearances before the Court; to ensure that they do not continue to obstruct and endanger the Court’s investigations; and to prevent them from using their powers to continue the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.

Apprehending the suspects will be a particular challenge for the ICC and its supporters. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 that referred the situation to the Court obligates the Libyan authorities to cooperate with the ICC. However, Gaddafi and the Libyan leadership have given no indication that they would cooperate at all with the Court. The warrants could also make it more difficult for Gaddafi to negotiate an exit into exile since he has few friends globally and all current 114 ICC States Parties are under an obligation to arrest him. Moreover, it is clear from this and other cases that the ICC Prosecutor and judges believe that they are obliged to proceed with a case referred by the Security Council if the evidence justifies it.

This challenge to the international community could prove an important opportunity for U.S. leadership and support to the Court. The U.S. has been working publicly to engage with the Court and support ICC cases. In particular, it has backed the Court’s effort to investigate and prosecute recent crimes in Libya. The arrest warrants issued today provide a new and concrete opportunity to advance U.S. national interests and to support international criminal justice. For this reason and since July 17 is International Justice Day, the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC) has created an International Justice Day alert action. It urges President Obama to help fulfill the mandate of Resolution 1970 by helping to carry out the arrest warrants issued today. Please sign and submit the letter to the President: http://www.change.org/petitions/ask-president-obama-to-support-the-icc-on-libya-and-help-arrest-gaddafi.

Two other recent developments should be mentioned.

Last week, on June 24th, Tunisia filed its documents acceding to the Court’s Rome Statute. Effective September 1, 2011, it will be the 116th State Party to the Statute.[2]

On June 23rd, the ICC Prosecutor announced that he had made a formal application to the Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber for authorization of an investigation of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Ivory Coast since November 28, 2010.[3]


[1]  ICC Press Release, Pre-Trial Chamber I issues three warrants of arrest for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdulla Al-Senussi(June 27, 2011); Simons, Hague Court Issues Warrant for Qaddafi for War Crimes, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 25, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Three Libyan Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Investigation of Gang-Rape in Libya (May 17, 2011). The Libyan situation was referred to the ICC by the U.N. Security Council. (Id.)

[2] ICC Press Release, Tunisia becomes the 116th State to join the ICC’s governing treaty, the Rome Statute (June 24, 2011).

[3]  ICC Press Release, ICC Prosecutor requests judges for authorization to open an investigation in Cote d’Ivoire (June 23, 2011).

International Criminal Court: The Upcoming Election of Its Prosecutor

This coming December the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will also elect a new Prosecutor for a single term of nine years.[1]

The Prosecutor is in charge of the management and administration of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). That Office is “responsible for receiving referrals and any substantiated information on crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, for examining them and for conducting investigations and prosecutions before the Court.”[2]

The Rome Statute sets forth the following necessary personal qualifications for the Prosecutor:

  • “High moral character;”
  • “Highly competent in and . . . extensive practical experience in the prosecution or trial of criminal cases;” and
  • Excellent knowledge of, and fluency in, one of the Court’s two “working languages” (English and French). [3]

Note that there is no requirement that the Prosecutor come from one of the Court’s States Parties. As a result, technically a U.S. citizen with the above qualifications would be eligible for election to this position, but given the history of the U.S. relationship with the Court and the global involvement of the U.S., most observers think it highly unlikely that a U.S. citizen could be, or should be, chosen for this job.

Six international human rights NGOs have advanced recommended selection criteria for the next ICC Prosecutor. Their doing so was in the context of what they saw as the challenges facing the ICC and its Prosecutor. The ICC’s work is done in a highly politicized international environment. The Prosecutor has to prioritize investigations and prosecutions to advance the Court’s goals, including victims’ right to justice. The Prosecutor must direct a diverse group of highly qualified people in a wide variety of complex and specialized tasks in the OTP. The Prosecutor must make trials relevant and meaningful for affected communities. The Prosecutor must promote complementarity, i.e.,  national investigations and prosecutions of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction. The Prosecutor must cooperate with other organs of the ICC to continue to build the institution.[4]

With all of these challenges in mind, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the other five NGOs recommended the following criteria for selecting the next ICC Prosecutor in addition to the individual’s meeting the statutory requirements:

  1. Demonstrated experience of professional excellence in complex criminal cases. This is most important since the primary role of the Prosecutor is to conduct factually provable and legally sound prosecutions and trials. Former judges may meet this criterion too.
  2. Demonstrated ability to act with independence and impartiality in the exercise of professional duties. This criterion requires demonstrated experience with, or an understanding of, international relations and other institutions relevant to the work of the OTP.
  3. Demonstrated professional excellence in institutional mangament. The Prosecutor must also develop a positive work environment in a multi-cultural environment. Delegation and supervision have to be balanced.
  4. Demonstrated experience in working with other bodies or agencies to achieve a common goal. This involves resolving disputes or tensions.
  5. Demonstrated experience in communicating effectively to a wide variety of constituencies.[5]

HRW also has made suggestions regarding the OTP’s “preliminary examinations” of possible situations for possible investigation by the OTP. More can be done by the OTP in these examinations, says HRW, to encourage national authorities to undertake investigations and prosecutions of possible crimes. One way to do this, according to HRW, is for the OTP to issue interim reports on the status of such examinations. This is consistent with the Rome Statute’s desire to promote “complementarity.”[6]

Just this year the ICC has been asked to shoulder more burdens with the U.N. Security Council’s referral of the current situation in Libya to the ICC.[7] Thus, it is critically important to the world for the ICC to be strengthened in every way, including the election of a fully qualified new Prosecutor.


[1] Rome Statute, Art. 42; Post: The International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); ICC, Election of Prosecutor–2011,   http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ASP/Elections/Prosecutor/Prosecutor.htm.    As previously discussed, in December 2011 the Assembly of States Parties will also elect six new judges. (SeePost: The International Criminal Court: Basics of Its Upcoming Judicial Election (June 23, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Required and Recommended Qualifications for Its Judges (June 24, 2011).)

[2] Rome Statute, Art. 42(1), (2).

[3] Rome Statute, Arts. 42(3), 50(2).

[4] Human Rights Watch, ICC: Selection Criteria for the Next Prosecutor to Meet the Challenges Ahead (March 18, 2011), http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/03/18/icc-selection-criteria-next-prosecutor-meet-challenges-ahead. The five other NGOs are Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme, International Center for Transitional Justice, International Crisis Group, Institute for Security Studies and Open Society Justice Initiative. The International Coalition for the International Criminal Court also actively participated in preparing this statement, but with 2,500 members, it was not possible to seek global endorsement. Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Human Rights Watch, ICC: Prosecutor Can Spur National Trials, Deter Crimes (June 15, 2011) http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/06/15/icc-prosecutor-can-spur-national-trials-deter-crimes. See Post: The International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[7]  See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Three Liban Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigation of Gang-Rape in Libya (May 16, 2011).

International Criminal Court: Required and Recommended Qualifications for ICC Judges

We have seen that six of the 18 judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be elected this December by its Assembly of States Parties. The requirements for equitable geographical and gender balance of the Court and for representation of the principal legal systems in the world have been discussed.[1]

Now we examine the more fascinating subject of the required and recommended personal qualifications for these judgeships.

The Rome Statute sets forth the following necessary personal qualifications:[2]

  • High moral character;
  • Impartiality;
  • Integrity;
  • Possessing the qualifications required by their States for appointment to their highest judicial offices;
  • Excellent knowledge of the Court’s two “working languages” (English and French) and fluency in at least one of these languages;
  • Established competency in either (a) “criminal law and procedure, and the necessary relevant experience, whether as judge, prosecutor, advocate or in similar capacity, in criminal proceedings” (the List A candidates) or (b) “relevant areas of international law such as international humanitarian law and the law of human rights, and extensive experience in a professional legal capacity which is of relevance to the judicial work of the Court” (the List B candidates);[3] and
  • At least some of the judges need to have “legal expertise on specific issues, including, but not limited to, violence against women or children.”[4]
In addition, Human Rights Watch has set forth certain other qualifications it deems important to enable the ICC to fulfill its overall mandate to combat “the most serious crimes of international concern.”[5] These additional qualifications are the following:
  • Substantial experience in criminal trials. This really is an emphasis of the statutory requirement that the List A judges have “experience, whether as judge, prosecutor, advocate or in similar capacity, in criminal proceedings.” Thus, Human Rights Watch suggests that at least five of the six new judges come from the A List candidates.
  • The capacity and willingness to meet the demands of adjudicating cases over a nine-year term. The new judges, it is suggested, must “possess the capacity (including stamina) and motivation to meet the many demands on [ICC] judges . . . over a full nine-year term.” In other words, the ICC judgeships are not sinecures to reward distinguished national judges at the end of their careers.
  • Commitment to ongoing training. The new judges should “value continuing legal education and . . . [be] willing to participate in initiatives [to promote] . . . legal innovation and coordination among all judicial chambers [of the Court] in adjudicating complex questions relating to law and policy.”

Implicit in the recommendations by Human Rights Watch is the need for the ICC continually to find ways to improve its efficiency, i.e., its ability to dispose of cases expeditiously. The same challenge faces the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in their final months, as was discussed at a recent U.N. Security council meeting.[6] Specific suggested changes for improving ICC efficiency have been put forward by one of the six ICC judges to be replaced in this election, Judge Fulford from the U.K.[7] Another set of such recommendations recently has been advanced by the War Crimes Research Office at American University’s Washington College of Law.[8]

I concur in the Human Rights Watch suggested qualifications, but believe that greater emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of electing new ICC judges with previous international criminal law experience. There are important differences between domestic and international criminal trials, and there is now a group of former judges, prosecutors and advocates who already have had such international experience at the ICC, ICTR, ICTY and other similar tribunals. To use a U.S. baseball analogy, look for major league free agents in addition to finding capable minor leaguers to promote to the big leagues. It is encouraging that all four of the first nominees have such international experience.[9]

The importance of this judicial election also had been recognized by the International Coalition for the International Criminal Court. It has called for the nomination of the most highly-qualified jurists for these positions.[10] In addition, the Coalition has established the Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections. This Panel was charged with providing “an independent assessment of whether each judicial candidate fulfills the qualifications established by Article 36 of the Rome Statute.” The five Panel members are all distinguished people with international legal experience.[11]

Just this year the ICC has been asked to shoulder more burdens with the U.N. Security Council’s referral of the current situation in Libya to the ICC.[12] Thus, it is critically important to the world for the ICC to be strengthened in every way, including the election of six fully qualified new judges.


[1]  See Post: The International Criminal Court: Basics of Its Upcoming Judicial Elections (June __, 2011).

[2] Rome Statute, Arts. 36(3), 38(8)(b), 50(2).

[3] List A judges are supposed to be at least nine in number; the List B judges, at least five. (Rome Statute, Art. 36(5).) All six of the retiring judges came from the A List. Of the six to be elected this December at least two must come from the A List while no one has to be from the B List. (See Post: The International Criminal Court: Basics of Its Upcoming Judicial Elections (June 23, 2011).)

[4] The author does not know of any legal issue that has been identified for judicial expertise other than the one specified in this Article of the Statute.

[5] Human Rights Watch, ICC: Recommendations for Nominating and Electing Candidates to Serve as Judges (May 18, 2011), http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/05/18/icc-recommendations-nominating-and-electing-candidates-serve-judges; Rome Statute, Art. 1.

[6]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Winding Down Two Ad Hoc Criminal Tribunals (June 18, 2011).

[7]  Id.

[8]  SaCouto, How to speed up ICC Proceedings (June 21, 2011), http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com/2011/06; War Crimes Research Office, Expediting Proceedings at the International Criminal Court (June 2011), http://www.wcl.american.edu/warcrimes/icc/documents/.

[9] See Post: The International Criminal Court: Basics of its Upcoming Judicial Election (June 23, 2011).

[10]  International Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Global Coalition Calls on States to Nominate the Most Highly-Qualified Judicial Candidates for the ICC (June 21, 2011), http://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/documents/.

[11] Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections, http://iccindependentpanel.org/. The Panelists are (i) The Honorable Hans Corell, former Judge of Appeal and former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel; (ii) The Honorable Justice Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor for the ICTR and ICTY; (iii) Judge O-Gon Kwon, Vice President of the ICTY and former Presiding Judge at the Daegu High Court; (iv) Dr. Cecilia Medina Quiroga, Co-Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Chile and former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; and (v) The Honorable Patricia Wald, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and former Judge of the ICTY.

[12]  See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Three Liban Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigation of Gang-Rape in Libya (May 16, 2011).