Latest U.S. Reports on International Religious Freedom

Annually the U.S. Department of State, pursuant to statutory authorization, releases a report on the status of religious freedom in every country in the world.[1] In addition, the quasi-independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom releases annual reports on the same subject for selected countries.[2]

It should be noted at the outset that these two agencies are not seeking to impose on the rest of the world the U.S. constitutional prohibition of the “establishment of religion” or of “abridging the free exercise [of religion].” [3] Instead the agencies reports rely upon this definition of the freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Similar provisions are found in several multilateral human rights treaties.[4]

The post will review the latest State Department report on this subject for all 194 other countries in the world and the Commission’s latest report on 29 countries plus one large region (Western Europe).[5]

Latest State Department Report

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After emphasizing the importance of religious freedom, the State Department’s May 20, 2013, report “tells stories of courage and conviction, but also recounts violence, restriction, and abuse. While many nations uphold, respect, and protect religious freedom, regrettably, in many other nations, governments do not protect this basic right; subject members of religious minorities to violence; actively restrict citizens’ religious freedom through oppressive laws and regulations; stand by while members of societal groups attack their fellow citizens out of religious hatred, and fail to hold those responsible for such violence accountable for their actions.”

The report continues.”The immediate challenge is to protect members of religious minorities. The ongoing challenge is to address the root causes that lead to limits on religious freedom. These causes include impunity for violations of religious freedom and an absence of the rule of law, or uneven enforcement of existing laws; introduction of laws restricting religious freedom; societal intolerance, including anti-Semitism and lack of respect for religious diversity; and perceptions that national security and stability are best maintained by placing restrictions on and abusing religious freedom.”

Highlighted for concern by the report were “[l]aws and policies that impede the freedom of individuals to choose a faith, practice a faith, change their religion, tell others about their religious beliefs and practices, or reject religion altogether remain pervasive. Numerous governments imposed such undue and inappropriate restrictions on religious groups and abused their members, in some cases as part of formal government law and practice.” Another concern was the “use of blasphemy and apostasy laws.” They “continued to be a significant problem, as was the continued proliferation of such laws around the world. Such laws often violate freedoms of religion and expression and often are applied in a discriminatory manner.”

The report documented “a continued global increase in anti-Semitism. Holocaust denial and glorification remained troubling themes, and opposition to Israeli policy at times was used to promote or justify blatant anti-Semitism. When political leaders condoned anti-Semitism, it set the tone for its persistence and growth in countries around the world. Of great concern were expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials, by religious leaders, and by the media.”

According to the report, “Governments that repress freedom of religion and freedom of expression typically create a climate of intolerance and impunity that emboldens those who foment hatred and violence within society. Government policy that denies citizens the freedom to discuss, debate, practice, and pass on their faith as they see fit also undercuts society’s ability to counter and combat the biased and warped interpretations of religion that violent extremists propagate. Societal intolerance increased in many regions during 2012.”

Finally the report said, “Governments exacerbated religious tensions within society through discriminatory laws and rhetoric, fomenting violence, fostering a climate of impunity, and failing to ensure the rule of law. In several instances of communal attacks on members of religious minorities and their property, police reportedly arrested the victims of such attacks, and NGOs alleged that there were instances in which police protected the attackers rather than the victims. As a result, government officials were not the only ones to commit abuses with impunity. Impunity for actions committed by individuals and groups within society was often a corollary of government impunity.”

The report also acknowledged the Department’s statutory obligation to designate “Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), i.e., those countries that are considered to commit “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” and whose records call for the U.S. government to take certain actions under the terms of the Act. The term ‘‘particularly severe violations of religious freedom’’ means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as: (a) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) prolonged detention without charges; (c) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or (d) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”

Accordingly the report re-designated the following eight countries as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.[6]

Latest Commission Report

USCommRelFree

 

Under the authorizing statute, the Commission is required to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) (or “Tier 1 Countries”) those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom.

In its latest report, issued on April 30, 2013, the following 15 countries were so designated: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ubekistan (all of which had been designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the State Department the prior year) plus Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

The Commission also designates some countries as “Tier 2 Countries,” i.e., countries on the threshold of Tier 1 status, i.e., when their “violations . . . are particularly severe” and when at least one, but not all three, of the criteria for that status (“systematic, ongoing and egregious”) is met.

The latest report designated the following eight countries as Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.[7]

The latest report also discussed six other countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey and Venezuela and one region (Western Europe) that it monitored during the year. At first glance the monitoring of Western Europe seems anomalous, but here are the topics of concern to the Commission:

  • Restrictions on religious dress (full-face veils) in France and Belgium.
  • Failure in Sweden, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Poland, Norway and Iceland to exempt religious slaughter of animals from laws requiring prior stunning of the animals.
  • Suggestions in Germany and Norway that religious circumcisions of male children were illegal.
  • Restrictions on construction of Islamic minarets in Switzerland, and the lack of an official mosque in Athens, Greece.
  • “Incitement to hatred” and other laws in almost all European states that can be used to restrict expression of religious beliefs.
  • Reluctance in many European states to provide accommodation of religious objections to generally applicable laws.
  • Measures in France, Austria, Belgium and Germany against religious groups perjoratively characterized as “cults” or “sects.”
  • Societal intolerance, discrimination and violence based on religion or belief such as towards Muslim women with full-face veils, Jewish people and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It should also be noted that the Commission sometimes takes an adversarial position vis-à-vis the U.S. State Department. For example, on April 30, 2013, when the Commission released its latest report, its simultaneous press release recommended that the Department designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” the seven additional countries the Commission had placed in Tier 1 as noted above.

When the Department failed to do so in its May 20th report, the next day the Commission issued a press release criticizing the Department for failure to make additional CPC designations since August 2011 and to do so for the same seven additional countries.

Conclusion

Because of my personal interest in Cuba, including its religious freedom, a subsequent post will compare and contrast the two reports regarding that country.

Such a comparison, in my opinion, will show that the State Department’s reports are more balanced and fair at least with respect to Cuba.


[2]  Id. § § 202, 205. The fascinating structure and composition of the Commission will be the subject of a future post.

[3]  U.S. Const., First Amend.

[5] A prior post examined the prior State Department report.

[6] The State Department report noted that it considers the recommendations of the Commission on CPCs, but that the Secretary of State makes the final decision on that issue. The Department’s report thereby implicitly rejected the Commission’s recommendation for an additional seven countries to be so designated.

[7] Previously the Commission called this group the “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”

 

Latest U.S. Report on Human Rights Around the World

StateDeptlogo

On Friday (April 19th), the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.[1]

In his Preface, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said, “It is in our interest to promote the universal rights of all persons. Governments that respect human rights are more peaceful and more prosperous. They are better neighbors, stronger allies, and better economic partners. Governments that enforce safe workplaces, prohibit exploitative child and forced labor, and educate their citizens create a more level playing field and broader customer base for the global marketplace. Conversely, governments that threaten regional and global peace, from Iran to North Korea, are also egregious human rights abusers, with citizens trapped in the grip of domestic repression, economic deprivation, and international isolation.”

Therefore, Kerry continued,” we advocate around the world for governments to adopt policies and practices that respect human rights regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability; that allow for and honor the results of free and fair elections; that ensure safe and healthy workplaces; and that respect peaceful protests and other forms of dissent.”

In so doing, Kerry acknowledged that “from our own experience [we know] that the work of building a more perfect union – a sustainable and durable democracy – will never be complete.”

The Introduction to the Report highlighted these five developments from 2012.

  1. Shrinking space for civil society activism around the world. Active participation of civil society in determining policies for the society is an important part of human rights. Yet in 2012, many governments “continued to repress or attack the means by which individuals have the ability to come together, air their views, and put forward their own proposals.” Mentioned specifically in this regard were Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Egypt, Bangladesh and China. [2]
  2. The ongoing struggle by people in the Middle East and North Africa for democratic change. Although there were some encouraging changes in this region, there also was “erosion of protections for civil society, sexual violence against women, violence against and increased marginalization of members of religious minorities, and escalating human rights violations.” This was most pronounced in Syria, but significant problems in this regard were seen in Bahrain and Egypt.
  3. Steps toward emerging democracy and a tentative opening for civil society in Burma. In 2012 Burma “continued to take significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy.” These changes are “the result of hard work by the Burmese people and sustained U.S. and international pressure to reform.” This transition, however, is not yet complete. Much work remains to be done.[3]
  4. The game-changing nature of information and communication technologies, in the face of increased suppression of traditional media and freedom of expression.  New technologies have made information more widely available throughout the world. Yet some governments seek to stop the free press. The world-wide number of journalists killed or imprisoned increased. Some governments used counter-terrorism as a “pretext for suppressing freedom of expression.”  Others endeavored to restrict internet freedom. Ecuador was cited as an example of a state where the president publicly criticized specific journalists and encouraged lawsuits to be brought against them, where a ban was instituted on press coverage favoring one candidate, philosophy or political theory and where the government used legal pretexts to harass and close several media outlets.[4]
  5. The continued marginalization of and violence against members of vulnerable groups. Too many governments “continue to persecute, or allow the persecution of, members of religious and ethnic minorities; women; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; people with disabilities; migrants; and members of other vulnerable populations, including tribal communities.” Anti-Semitism in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America was specifically mentioned as a problem.

These reports have been prepared by the State Department pursuant to a 1961 federal statute. Since then other federal statutes require U.S. foreign and trade policy to take into account countries’ human rights and worker rights performance.

Since 1976 a Coordinator of Human Rights (later upgraded to an Assistant Secretary) in the Department of State has the overall responsibility for preparing these reports based upon information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, foreign government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.


[1]  News of the Report in the U.S. media has been virtually nonexistent. Here is the New York Times article on the Report.

[2] On April 21st China responded to the U.S. criticism with “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2012.” This year, the Chinese report focused on U.S. gun crime, citing “astonishing casualties”; growing poverty in the U.S. and a wide wealth gap; and America’s overseas wars. It also singled out what it said was low voter participation in U.S. elections and the detention of terrorism suspects in Guantánamo.

[3] Similar recent reports about Burma come from Human Rights Watch, Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a Burmese Buddhist. On the other hand, the government continues to declare amnesties and release political prisoners, and we continue to be inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi’s, whose  acceptance in 2012 of her Nobel Peace Prize of 1991 was the subject of an earlier post.

[4] Ecuador’s wide-ranging measures to squelch hostile journalism have been the subject of persistent and detailed criticism by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and as discussed in a prior post Ecuador in retaliation has mounted, and continues to mount, a campaign to try to weaken the Commission and thereby its criticism of Ecuador.

Enforcement of International Human Rights Norms with U.S. Immigration Laws

Three methods of enforcing international human rights norms are found in U.S. laws relating to immigration.[1]

Introduction

First, certain foreign human rights violators can be deported or removed from the U.S. As section 237(a)(4)(D) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states: “Any alien . . . in and admitted to the [U.S.] . . . shall . . .  be removed if the alien . . . (ii) ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide, as defined in section 1091(a) of title 18, United States Code . . . ; (iii) outside the [U.S.] . . . committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in . . . (I)any act of torture, as defined in section 2340 of title 18, United States Code; or (II) under color of law of any foreign nation, any extrajudicial killing, as defined in section 3(a) of the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (28 U.S.C. 1350 note).” [2]

Generals Casanova (left) and Garcia (right)
Generals Casanova (left) and Garcia (right)

This provision of U.S. immigration law currently is being used with respect to former Salvadoran military officers Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia, who jointly had been held civilly liable for torture in their country by U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Statute(ATS)[3] and the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA),[4] but who jointly had escaped similar civil liability under the TVPA for the torture and murder of the four American churchwomen in El Salvador.

These two immigration cases were brought by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whose mission is to “prevent the admission of foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers into the [U.S.],” to “identify and prosecute individuals who have been involved and/or responsible for the commission of human rights abuses across the globe” and to “remove, whenever possible, those offenders who are located in the [U.S.].”

Second, certain foreign human rights violators who had gained legal entry or presence in the U.S. can be criminally prosecuted for committing fraud in obtaining a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit (18 U.S.C. § 1546(a)) or committing perjury in statements to U.S. immigration officials (18 U.S.C. § 1621(2)).

Innocente Orlando Montano
Innocente Orlando Montano

This set of provisions currently is being used with respect to another former Salvadoran military officer,  Innocente Orlando Montano, who allegedly was involved in various human rights violations in his country, including the November 1989 murder of the six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.[5]

Sergei Magnitsky Grave
Sergei Magnitsky Grave

Third, last year the U.S. adopted the so-called Magnitsky Act which bans the issuance of U.S. visas to Russian individuals involved in certain human rights violations, including the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after investigating fraud involving Russian tax officials.[6]

Discussion

 Vides Casanova

After an eight-day trial, a U.S. immigration judge on February 22, 2012, issued his 151-page decision on charges by DHS that Casanova, who had been residing in the U.S. since his retirement from the Salvadoran military in 1989, was removable from the U.S. on the grounds that he had committed, ordered, incited, or otherwise participated in torture and extrajudicial killings in El Salvador under the previously cited INA provisions. [7]

The immigration judge found that Casanova had ” assisted or otherwise participated in (a) “the extrajudicial killings of the four American churchwomen, five other named individuals, 29 unnamed others plus “countless civilians committed by the Salvadoran Armed Forces and Salvadoran National Guard while under [his] . . . command” and (b) “the torture of [Arce]” and “countless unnamed individuals [who had been] tortured by the Salvadoran [security forces] while under [his] . . .  command.” Therefore, the immigration judge concluded that Casanova was removable from the U.S. under the previously cited statutory provision.

On August 16, 2012, the Immigration Judge denied Casanova’s application for cancellation of the removal order. The Judge held that the INA barred Casanova from seeking cancellation of removal, that under Board of Immigration (BIA) precedent immigration judges could not apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel against the U.S. Government and that the statutory provision authorizing his removal that was added in 2004 was explicitly made retroactive, thus rendering any contrary international law irrelevant.

On September 17, 2012, Vides Casanova appealed the latter decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, where it is now pending.

Jose Guillermo Garcia

In October 2009, DHS charged that Garcia, who had been residing in the U.S. since his retirement from the Salvadoran military, was removable from the U.S. under the previously cited INA provisions on the grounds that he had committed, ordered, incited, or otherwise participated in torture and extrajudicial killings in El Salvador.[8]

On February 27, 2013, an immigration judge in Miami, Florida concluded a seven-day trial or hearing on these charges. Closing briefs are due on June 3 and reply briefs by July 5. Thereafter the judge will issue a “timely written decision.”

The trial record consists of nine volumes of documents and the testimony of former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert E. White; Dr. Juan Romagoza Arce (a plaintiff in the successful ATS and TVPA case against Garcia and Casanova); Dr. Terry Karl (expert witness); Garcia; and Ana Carolina Montoya (Garcia’s daughter).

  • Ambassador White testified to his frequent conversations with Garcia from March 1980 to early 1981, when the Ambassador urged Garcia to clean up human rights abuses and hold the perpetrators responsible. Garcia, however, failed and refused to do so even though he had admitted to White that 1% of the military were in the death squads. Garcia had expressed approval of the November 1980 assassination of the leadership of an opposition political party and of the strategy of assassinations as a means of dealing with dissidents.
  • Arce testified to his abduction in December 1980 and his horrendous torture over 22 days at a military barracks and the National Guard headquarters.
  • Dr. Karl, a Stanford University political science professor who has studied El Salvador for many years, testified that during the period Garcia was Minister of Defense (October 1979-April 1983) (1) he was the most powerful person, de facto and de jure, in the country; (2) the Salvadoran military engaged in widespread and systematic attacks on civilians; (3) Garcia was in control of the military; (4) Garcia presided over instituting measures of state terror; (5) Garcia’s actions gave a “green light” for human rights abuses; (6) Garcia promoted and protected known human rights abusers and fostered impunity of his fellow officers; and (7) Garcia repeatedly denied human rights abuses were occurring. She also described the widespread and systematic use of torture by the various units of the Salvadoran security forces.
  • Garcia testified that he did not commit or order any acts of torture or extrajudicial killings. He  admitted that he knew there were widespread human rights abuses in the military while he was Minister of Defense; that “was public knowledge” and “can’t be denied.” He, however, had tried to identify and hold the perpetrators accountable, but the available evidence was insufficient to have successful prosecutions.
  • During questioning by the immigration judge, Garcia repeatedly admitted that he know of torture and other abuses by the military, but that he lacked control. Yes, he said, he did bear responsibility for those abuses, but not culpability.

Innocente Orlando Montano

In February 2012 the federal court in Massachusetts indicted Montano for perjury and lying to U.S. immigration officials in connection with his applications for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S. under the previously cited criminal code provisions.

On September 13th he pleaded guilty to three counts of immigration fraud and three counts of perjury as a result of (a) his stating a false date of entry to the U.S. that qualified for TPS instead of his actual date of entry which did not so qualify and (b) his false statements to immigration officials that he had never served in a military unit, had never received military weapons training and had never been involved in persecution of others.

Since then the parties have been exchanging briefs on the appropriate sentence. The Government is recommending  one of 51 months while Montano argues that is too long.

The Government’s Sentencing Memorandum of January 8, 2013, makes an interesting and, in my opinion, compelling argument for its recommendation. Here are its main points:

  • During the Salvadoran civil war, Montano quickly rose to the highest echelon of its security forces, and the forces he commanded were responsible for death squad activities and numerous other human rights abuses. According to expert witness, Dr. Terry Karl, there were at least 1,169 such violations, including 65 extrajudicial killings, 51 disappearances and 520 cases of torture. His appointment as Vice Minister for Public Security coincided with “a strong resurgence [in such crimes] . . . aimed at prominent civilians and civilian groups.”
  • Before the November 1989 murder of the Jesuit priests, Montano was an active participant in trying to publicly discredit the priests, including his publicly calling Ignacio Ellacuria, the Jesuit Rector of the University of Central America (UCA), as one “fully identified with subversive movements.”
  • In November 1989, according to the 1993 report of the Truth Commission for El Salvador, Montano was a member of a “small group of elite officers, one of whom gave the official order to ‘kill Ellacuria and leave no witnesses.” (Later in 1993 the Ad Hoc Commission, which was established by the Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran civil war, recommended that virtually the entire military command, including Montano, be removed from office.)
  • After the murder of the Jesuits, Montano aided the cover up of the involvement of the security forces in this crime. He publicly insisted that the FMLN, not the security forces, had committed the crime. Although Montano initially was responsible for investigating the crime, he did not do anything to do so. He also pressured lower level military officers not to disclose the orders to kill Ellacuria and leave no witnesses to the Salvadoran court in subsequent charge of  investigating the crime. In addition, Montano refused to cooperate with, or be interviewed by, the investigating judge, and in 2000 publicly rejected the claim that he was the indirect author of the murders, rebuked the Jesuits at UCA of “raking up the past” and called the reopening of the case as “orchestrated by the left” as part of “an international leftist plan.”
  • When Montano left El Salvador for the U.S. in 2001, there was “a great likelihood [he] . . . was motivated, at least in part, . . . [by] fear that he was vulnerable to prosecution for his role in the Jesuit murders.”
  • A fear of such vulnerability grew out of the arrest in 1998 of Chilean General Pinochet and of his being stripped of his immunity and ordered in 2001 to stand trial in Chile; the 1999 case against an Argentine military officer; a case against a Honduran general; and the June 2001 conviction of a Guatemalan military officer for the extrajudicial execution of a Roman Catholic bishop.
  • Also supporting such a likely fear was the Salvadoran election of March 2000 which gave the FMLN (the former guerrilla organization) a legislative majority and which immediately thereafter precipitated calls for reopening the Jesuit case from the Rector of UCA and the Archbishop of San Salvador. To the same effect were decisions in 2000 by the country’s courts that its General Amnesty Law could not be applied to human rights violations by public officials while in office and that even though the statute of limitations had run out in the Jesuits case, the writ of amparo could still be used for that crime.

Given the strength of the Government’s justification for the recommended sentence, the lack of any real response from Montano and the skeptical questioning of Montano by the judge, I have little doubt that the judge will find the grounds for removal substantiated by the evidence and order him removed or deported from the U.S.

Magnitsky Act Developments

On April 12, 2013, the Obama Administration issued a list of 18 Russians who were barred from entering the U.S. and whose assets, if any, in the U.S. were frozen, pursuant to this statute. Most were individuals tied to the death of Mr. Magnitsky, but two had been implicated in notorious murders of a Chechen dissident and an American journalist. There were other more highly placed Russian officials on a nonpublic list.

The reaction to the release of this list was mixed. Russian officials, or course, were critical although a Russian legislator said the Obama Administration was taking a “minimalist path” to avoid a deeper crisis before the visit this week to Russia by the Administration’s National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon. Mr. Megnitsky’s U.S. client and major advocate for the Act when it was in Congress, William F. Browder, said, “We’ve just crossed the threshold. This is the end of impunity.” U.S. Senator John McCain, however, said the list was “so damaging” because it was not robust enough and promised new legislation to go after Russian abusers.

The next day (April 13th) Russia retaliated by issuing a list of 18 U.S. citizens who were barred from entering Russia because of their alleged human rights violations. It included two people involved in preparing the so-called “torture memos” –David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, 2005-2009; and John Yoo, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, 2001-2003–and two who had responsibilities for the operations of the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities– Geoffrey D. Miller, retired U.S.Army Major General, Commandant of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 2002-2003; and Jeffrey Harbeson, U.S. Navy officer, Commandant of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 2010-2012. The others on the list were U.S. officials involved in the prosecution and trial of a Russian arms dealer and a Russian pilot allegedly involved in drug trafficking.

Russian officials said the U.S. must realize it cannot conduct its relationship with Russia “in the spirit of mentoring and undisguised diktat.” The statement continued, “Our principled opinion on this unfriendly step is well known: under the pressure of Russophobically inclined U.S. congressmen, a severe blow has been dealt to bilateral relations and mutual confidence. The war of lists is not our choice, but we had no right to leave this open blackmail unanswered.”

Conclusion

These three immigration cases show the interactive nature of the enforcement of international human rights norms. Casanova and Garcia were named as involved in some of the worst human rights abuses in El Salvador by the Truth Commission for El Salvador, and its conclusions were then used by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in cases against the State of El Salvador and by U.S. courts in civil lawsuits under the ATS and the TVPA. All of the results of these proceedings were then used in these three U.S. immigration cases.

Another interactive element in these cases is the competent, sustained efforts of the Center for Justice and Accountability in supporting the successful civil lawsuit against Casanova and Garcia under the ATS and TVPA and pressing ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center to bring these immigration cases. The Center is a California-based human rights organization “dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress.” It “uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.”

The Magnitsky Act, in my opinion, is a different matter. I think it was unnecessary because the previously mentioned INA provisions now being used in the Casanova and Garcia immigration cases could be used to deny U.S. visas to the named Russians. I also think it was and is imprudent because it interferes with U.S. relations with Russia and our national interest in trying to obtain Russian assistance on problems with Syria and North Korea, for example. Professor of Russian Studies at NYU, Stephen Cohen, shares the latter view.

Yes, it is true that some of these means of enforcement are weaker than criminal conviction and imprisonment of the violators. Some only involve recommendations to the state (here, El Salvador) by such organizations as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In this post we are concerned, in part, with orders by a country (here, the U.S.) for a violator to leave the country. But such “weakness” is a necessary consequence of a world essentially structured on the basis of an individual state’s sovereignty. Over time these various mechanisms hopefully will be improved and strengthened.


[1]  Asylum, of course, is another part of immigration law that enforces human rights as covered in other posts. Additional ways of enforcement are discussed in another post.

[2] This provision about removal of foreign human rights violators was added by section 5501 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, 118 Stat. 3638, 3740 (2004). The same language bars such a person from obtaining a visa for legal entry into the U.S. (Id. § 212(a)(3)(E)(ii), (III).)

[3]  The ATS (28 U.S.C.§1350) provides that U.S.”district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the [U.S.].” Many prior posts have discussed this statute and cases thereunder.

[4]   The TVPA (28 U.S.C.§1350 note) provides, “An individual who, under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation . . . subjects an individual to torture [or extrajudicial killing] shall, in a civil action, be liable for damages . . . .” Many prior posts have discussed this statute and cases thereunder.

[5] A Spanish court under the principle of universal jurisdiction has charged Montano and other Salvadoran military officers with complicity in the murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and daughter. The Spanish government has asked the U.S. to extradite Montano and another former officer now living in the U.S. to Spain to stand trial on such charges, but the U.S. apparently has not yet acted upon the request. A similar request to El Salvador for extradition of other former officers has been rejected. A summary of these and other developments in the Jesuits case is available on this blog.

[6] The complete title of the statute is the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. Sections 404 (a) and 405(a) of the Act make ineligible for U.S. visas individuals identified on a subsequent U.S. presidential list of those “responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of . . . Magnitsky, participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse, or death of . . .  Magnitsky, financially benefitted from the detention, abuse, or death of . . .  Magnitsky, or was involved in the criminal conspiracy uncovered by  . . . Magnitsky.” That presidential  list is also to include a list of individuals “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals seeking–(A) to expose illegal activity carried out by officials of the Government of the Russian Federation; or(B) to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections, in Russia.”

[7]  A previous post discussed this February 2012 decision. The complete (but redacted) text of the February and August 2012 decisions was only made publicly available in April 2013. A summary of this immigration case is available on the web.

[8] A summary of this immigration case is available on the web.  Previously (January 2009), Garcia had been indicted for visa fraud and making false statements to U.S. immigration officials, but in September 2009 the indictment was dismissed when a government witness recanted her testimony.

International Criminal Court: Other Developments

ICClogo

We just reviewed the current status of the investigative situations and cases of the International Criminal Court (ICC). [1] Now we look at two other major issues facing the ICC–Syria and Palestine, last year’s meeting of the Court’s Assembly of States Parties and the Chief Prosecutor’s statement about this month’s being genocide awareness month.

Syria. As we know from many news sources, popular demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad commenced in March 2011 and immediately grew throughout the country. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was deployed to quell the uprising, and soldiers were ordered to open fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion. By January 2013 the U.N. estimated the war’s death toll had exceeded 60,000, and a month later this figure was updated to 70,000. Another 6,000 reportedly were killed in March 2013.

To respond to this horrible suffering, many have called for the ICC to become involved. One who has repeatedly done so is the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Here are some examples:

  • During a debate on Syria by the U.N. Human Rights Council in February 2012, she said she believed that the situation of Syria should be referred to the ICC by the U.N. Security Council.
  • On June 7, 2012, she said, “We continue to witness a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Syria, which demands our full attention and engagement.” There is evidence of “a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations, and may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes. There are indications that the situation in Syria – at least in certain areas – amounts to an internal armed conflict. This would have legal implications, triggering the possibility of commission of war crimes, in addition to crimes against humanity. It makes the call I made to the Security Council to consider referring the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court even more urgent.”
  • At a February 13, 2013, Security Council meeting, she said, “The lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction has been disastrous and civilians on all sides have paid the price. We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes.” She said that referring Syria to the ICC could have a very significant preventive effect because it “would send a clear message to both the government and the opposition that there will be consequences for their actions”.

In January 2013, 58 countries signed a joint statement calling for such a referral. In response at least five Security Council members voiced support for same– France, Britain, Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea. The next month, February 2013, U.N. human rights investigator Carla del Ponte said the “time has come” for the Security Council to refer war crimes in Syria to the ICC for prosecution. Similar calls for referral have come from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The Syrian government obviously opposes such a referral. In January 2013 it said it “regrets the persistence of these countries [that signed the joint statement favoring referral] in following the wrong approach and refusing to recognize the duty of the Syrian state to protect its people from terrorism imposed from abroad.” The statement also accused some of the countries signing the statement of “deceit and double standards” in blaming Syria while financing, training and hosting “terrorists.”

Because Syria is not a state party to the ICC’s Rome Statute, the only way for the Syrian situation to get before the ICC is by a referral from the U.N. Security Council. But so far that has been impossible because Russia and China as permanent members of the Council would veto such a referral as they already have vetoed resolutions to impose sanctions on Syria.[2] For example, this past January the Russian Foreign Ministry said the joint request by over 50 countries for such a referral was  “ill-timed and counterproductive to resolving the main task at this moment: an immediate end to the bloodshed in Syria.”

Palestine. In November 2012 the U.N. General Assembly, 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions, voted to grant non-member observer state status to the Palestinian Authority. Those voting “No” included Israel, U.S. and Canada. The abstainers included the U.K. and Germany.

Israel and the U.S. are concerned that the Palestinian Authority (PA) may use its new U.N. status to try a press for an ICC investigation of Israeli practices in the occupied territories. The PA could: (1) attempt to become a State Party at the ICC by ratifying the Rome Statute and then referring alleged crimes to the ICC; or (2) remain a non-State Party but make a declaration accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over a particular set of crimes.

In either option the PA would have to refer an entire situation or train of events to the ICC that would permit the ICC Prosecutor to investigate or prosecute any crime within that situation allegedly committed by anyone, including alleged crimes by Palestinians against Israelis.

The State Party option would require the PA to ratify the Rome Statute and then present a document certifying the ratification to the U.N. Secretary-General, who is responsible for administering the Rome Statute. He would have to decide whether the PA was a state competent to ratify. Should he so decide, the Prosecutor and the rest of the ICC would be obliged to proceed as with any other State Party.

In the non-State Party option of a declaration of acceptance of jurisdiction followed by a referral, the ICC Prosecutor would have to make the first decision on whether the PA was a state competent to make the referral. This decision could be challenged in the Pre-Trial Chamber by the PA, or by another state involved in the situation giving rise to the referral, such as Israel.

The PA has in fact already tried this option by submitting a report of alleged crimes and declaration of acceptance of jurisdiction to the ICC Prosecutor in 2009. In April 2012, however, the Prosecutor released a statement that at he was not empowered to decide on the PA’s statehood status. Instead, the Prosecutor said, a U.N. body such as the Security Council or the General Assembly, or the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties, would have to make this determination. After the General Assembly’s recent action, the press has reported that the current Prosecutor is giving the earlier PA declaration further consideration.

Assembly of States Parties. Last November the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) held its 11th session and adopted a budget and made certain elections.

The ASP approved an amendment to the Court’s Rules of Procedure (new Rule 132 bis) that will permit a single judge to perform the functions of a Trial Chamber for the purposes of trial preparation. The amendment was agreed by consensus and is expected to expedite ICC trial preparation.

The ASP also had a general discussion of complementarity, i.e., the principle and practice of the ICC’s deferring to criminal prosecutions in national court systems. Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand and current administrator of the U.N. Development Program, spoke about the role international development agencies, such as UNDP and others, can contribute to domestic capacity for dealing with ICC crimes. She also urged governments to take responsibility to deliver justice.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp, congratulated the ASP for this crucial discussion on both the policy and practice of complementarity. He stressed the importance to governments – States Parties and non-States Parties alike – to strengthen domestic judicial capacity in a manner that is both concerted and coordinated. He also said the U.S. supports ICC prosecutions and building national justice systems by funding support of complementarity; using the tools of diplomacy to support complementarity; providing technical and legal assistance to national systems; and improving fugitive tracking efforts.

There also was discussion about an initiative to adopt a treaty on crimes against humanity that has been prepared by the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

Genocide Awareness Statement by Prosecutor. In light of this April’s being genocide awareness month, the Court’s Chief Prosecutor called on “all States, whether parties to the Rome Statute or not, to cooperate with the ICC in seeking/pursuing accountability for genocide.” In particular, this meant enforcing the ICC’s warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who is charged with “genocide by killing, causing serious bodily injury or mental harm and by deliberating inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur.”


[1] Many posts have covered the ICC.

[2] Some prior posts have discussed possible ICC consideration of the Syrian situation (here and here).

Is the International Criminal Court Flawed?

A July 8th New York Times headline proclaims, “Arab Uprisings Point Up Flaw in Global Court.” It erroneously suggests that the people operating the International Criminal Court are stupid or cowardly or that the diplomats who in 1998 drafted the ICC’s governing treaty, the ICC’s Rome Statute, were similarly stupid or cowardly.

The article starts with the facts that the ICC has not initiated an investigation of human rights abuses in Yemen and Syria. That is lamentable, but it is not due to a flaw in the operations of the ICC or the Rome Statute.

It is due instead to the limitations on the Court’s jurisdiction that were intentionally established in the drafting of the Rome Statute because of opposition of states like the U.S. that did not want the Court commencing investigations or criminal prosecutions against their citizens if the state did not ratify that Statute.

That Statute’s Article 12 provides, in part, that the Court has jurisdiction if certain crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes) are committed on the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome Statute or by nationals of such a state. Neither Yemen nor Syria is such a party, as is true for all other states in the Mideast except Jordan. Thus, the Court does not have jurisdiction of such an investigation or prosecution under Article 12.

The Rome Statute’s Article 13(b) also provides jurisdiction for the Court if the U.N. Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression), refers a situation of suspected crimes of that nature to the ICC even if the state where the conduct occurred or whose nationals are involved had not ratified the Rome Statute. In fact, as the New York Times article points out, the Security Council has twice done so: Sudan (Darfur) and Libya.

However, as most people know, the U.N. Charter that was drafted in 1945 at the end of World War II grants in Article 27(3)  a veto on any action by the Council to each of its five permanent members: the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [now Russia] and the Republic of China. The failure of the ICC to undertake any investigation of the Yemen situation is due to a threatened veto by the U.S. of such a referral.

With respect to Syria, the U.S. in June 2011 reportedly was seeking Russian and Chinese support for a Council referral of the situation to the Court, but that was obviously unsuccessful because no such proposal was actually advanced in the Council. In November 2011 four U.S. Senators (Dick Durbin, Benjamin Cardin, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer) sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (Susan Rice) asking for such a Security Council referral. They said, “The people of Syria deserve to know that the people of the United States understand their plight, stand behind them, and will work to bring justice to the country.” Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC also has been endorsed by the New York Times.

The next month (December 2011) the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Security Council to make such a referral. But nothing happened, again because of threatened vetoes by Russia and China.

If there is any “flaw” in this structure with respect to Yemen and Syria it is the veto right of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Although many, if not most, of the U.N. members that are not permanent Council members dislike the superior status and veto rights of the permanent Council members and voice various suggestions for reform of the Security Council, expert observers of the U.N. do not think that is at all likely in the near future.

In the meantime, 121 of the 192 U.N. members are now parties to the Rome Statute, and the Court’s governing body (its Assembly of States Parties) is working towards its goal of universal ratification of the Rome Statute. If and when that happened, the Court could initiate investigations and prosecutions with respect to all such parties without Security Council action.

Over the last 60-plus years the peoples of the world through their nation-state governments have been struggling to climb out of the pits of depravity of World War II by creating or codifying international norms or human rights and by constructing mechanisms to protect individuals that are beyond the control of their own national governments while such governments still have sovereignty over most aspects of their lives. The creation and operation of the International Criminal Court and other so-called ad hoc international criminal tribunals are important pieces of this effort. This is an inherently difficult process, and many compromises are necessary in order to make any progress. But the story is not finished. Further development, I am confident, will occur.

U.N. Security Council Briefing on Libya by ICC Prosecutor

 

Luis Moreno-Ocampo

   

U.N. Security Council

On May 16, 2012, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, briefed the U.N. Security Council on the status of the ICC’s investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in Libya since February 15, 2011. He did so because the Council on February 26, 2011, had referred this situation to the ICC for investigation and prosecution.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo reported that his office has been cooperating with states, INTERPOL, NGO’s and others, including the separate U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Libya and the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).

The Prosecutor emphasized that the “intensity of the cooperation [between the ICC and the NTC] . . . is only increasing” and that the NTC had asked the ICC to postpone its investigation and prosecution of two individuals to enable Libya to prosecute them for the same crimes. The Prosecutor said that his office was well aware of the “primacy of national proceedings” under the Rome Statute and on June 2nd would submit his comments on the request to the Court.

The report also discussed the Prosecutor’s continuing investigation of gender crimes (rape of opponents), the alleged arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of presumed Gaddafi loyalist and the alleged killings, looting, property destruction and forced disappearances of suspected Gaddafi loyalists in the town of Tawergha.

In addition, the Prosecutor stated that his office had investigated alleged crimes by NATO forces, but that it had “no information to conclude that the NATO air strikes which may have resulted in civilian deaths and injury or damaged civilian objects were the result of the intentionally directing of attacks against the civilian population as such or against civilian objects.” Nor did the Prosecutor have any “information to suggest that [NATO] . . .  authorized the launching of strikes in the knowledge that such attacks would cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and directed overall military advantage anticipated.”

These conclusions regarding NATO were specifically welcomed by some of the NATO members on the Security Council (U.K., France and Germany). Russia and China, on the other hand, expressed concern that no charges had been brought against NATO leaders for some of their air strikes.

The Togo representative on the Council mentioned the need for greater cooperation between the ICC and African states and hoped that the recent visit to the African Union headquarters by the President of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties “will enable a strengthening of ties so that the shared goal of combating the impunity of the perpetrators of heinous crime can be met.”

The most recent prior post on the ICC and Libya was on November 16, 2011 with nine comments thereto.


U.S. Litigation over a Russian Real Estate Project

Moscow, Russia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, many U.S. businesses sought new opportunities in Russia.

One was Ellerbe Becket Construction Services, Inc. (Ellerbe), a Minneapolis-based firm that offered architectural, engineering and construction management services. To assist them in this effort, it hired Nicholas Loukianoff, a Russian-American citizen who was bilingual in English and Russian.

One of the potential projects for Ellerbe was a Korea-Russia Trade Center in Moscow, and Ellerbe asked Loukianoff to help find a site in Moscow for such a building. However, the potential Korean client decided not to proceed, and the building was not built.

Nevertheless, Mr. Loukianoff’s company sued Ellerbe in federal court in San Francisco, California for damages under various legal theories. I was the principal lawyer for Ellerbe in this case.

During the pre-trial discovery, I took the deposition of Mr. Loukianoff’s expert witness, a newly minted Russian real estate agent. I did so by telephone from my office in Minneapolis to Ellerbe’s Moscow office with the English-Russian interpreter in Moscow. During the course of my examination, I asked him something like, “Private real estate transactions in Russia have only been happening in the last several years, right?” He did not agree with that statement and mentioned Russia’s sale of Alaska to the U.S. in 1867. That comment still makes me chuckle.

Several weeks before the trial was scheduled to start in January 1999, the court granted Ellerbe’s motion for summary judgment on three of plaintiff’s claims. Thus, the only claims left for trial were breach of contract and quantum meruit (reasonable value of services).[1]

At the start of the trial, the court granted other Ellerbe motions to exclude certain plaintiff’s evidence at trial, including a new damage theory (1% of the total built-out cost of the Center that was never built).[2] As a result, the potential value of plaintiff’s case collapsed, and the case immediately settled with a very modest payment by Ellerbe.

I still wish that I had obtained a trip to Moscow for this case.


[1] Memorandum Decision & Order, NAL Associates, Inc. v. Ellerbe Becket Construction Services, Inc., No. C-97-0997 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 8, 1999).

[2] Order , NAL Associates, Inc. v. Ellerbe Becket Construction Services, Inc., No. C-97-0997 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 1999).