U.S. and Cuba Sign Additional Agreements

This week the U.S. and Cuba have signed four additional agreements.[1]

On January 16 the two countries in Havana signed the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was discussed in a prior post.

On January 18 in Havana, the U.S. and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue by enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in assisting persons in distress and to act in furtherance of obligations under international law. A Cuban official noted that the accord is particularly important to conducting joint and continued efforts to find and protect people in danger, that the two countries have been collaborating on search and rescue efforts for over 20 years and that in 2014 they had established procedural and operational frameworks for emergency cases. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy, highlighted the importance of perfecting such efforts given the increase in authorized trade and the flow of travelers between both countries.

On January 18 the U.S. and Cuba joined with Mexico at the State Department in Washington, D.C. to sign a treaty to set territorial limits in contested Gulf of Mexico waters. The treaty covers the Eastern Gap of the Gulf of Mexico, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three countries’ overlapping claims in the Eastern Gap had created what is known as a “Doughnut Hole.” Trilateral discussions begun in mid-2016 on the maritime territorial issue were concluded by the end of the year. Because it is a treaty, for the U.S. it must be ratified by the U.S. Senate.

On January 19 in Havana the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to help prevent the introduction and spread of quarantine pests, animal and plant disease agents through the exchange of scientific information, best practices for the prevention and control of plagues and emerging diseases, collaborative scientific projects, including the use of technology, research and surveillance, and the holding of events on specific aspects of animal and plant health. This MOU provides a specific framework for the cooperation in the field of animal and plant health, complementing the provisions of the MOU on cooperation in the field of agriculture and other related areas that was signed on March 21, 2016.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Sign Search and Rescue Agreement (Jan. 18, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Sign Maritime Boundary Treaty (Jan. 18, 2017); Reuters, United States and Cuba Complete Deals as Trump Era Set to Begin, N.Y. Times (Jan. 18, 2017); Reuters, US, Mexico, Cuba Ready to Sign ‘Doughnut Hole” Deal in Gulf Waters, N.Y. Times (Jan. 18, 2017), DeYoung, U.S.-Cuba sign torrent of agreements under the inauguration wire, Wash. Post (Jan. 18, 2017); Hernandez, Cuba and U.S. sign search and rescue agreement, Granma (Jan. 18, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and United States Signed Treaty on the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf in the Eastern Polygon of the Gulf of Mexico (Jan. 18, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States sign Memorandum of understanding in the field of animal and plant health (Jan. 20, 2017).

Reactions to New Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization

As replicated in a prior post, on October 14, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization.

This Directive, to my knowledge, has no special U.S. legal status and instead is a roadmap for the next administration on the multiple ways the complex U.S. government is implementing such normalization. President Obama in a statement about the Directive said, “This Directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible. . . . [It] consolidates and builds upon the changes we’ve already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people.”[1]

Here are comments on some of the key unresolved issues in that process.

  1. Ending the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

 Cuba repeatedly has called for ending the U.S. embargo, and on October 27 it will present its annual resolution condemning the embargo (blockade) to the U.N. General Assembly, which undoubtedly again will overwhelmingly approve the resolution.

The Presidential Directive correctly notes that the Obama Administration repeatedly has asked Congress to end the embargo and states that the U.S. Mission to the United Nations “will participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the [U.N.], as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.”[2]

  1. Expanding U.S.-Cuba Trade

The Directive correctly includes a “prosperous and stable Cuba” and expanded U.S.-Cuba trade as parts of its vision for normalization, and the Directive correctly reported that the Obama Administration has adopted regulations relaxing some of the restrictions on U.S. trade with Cuba.[3]

In addition, President Obama’s statement about the Directive noted that on the same day, “The Departments of Treasury and Commerce issued further regulatory changes . . . to continue to facilitate more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and more access to information.”[4]

According to the two departments’ press release, these new changes will enable “more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth.” More specifically, the changes “are intended to expand opportunities for scientific collaboration by authorizing certain transactions related to Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals and joint medical research; improve living conditions for Cubans by expanding existing authorizations for grants and humanitarian-related services; increase people-to-people contact in Cuba by facilitating authorized travel and commerce; facilitate safe travel between the United States and Cuba by authorizing civil aviation safety-related services; and bolster trade and commercial opportunities by expanding and streamlining authorizations relating to trade and commerce.”[5]

There is also “a new authorization that will allow persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide services to Cuba or Cuban nationals related to developing, repairing, maintaining, and enhancing certain Cuban infrastructure in order to directly benefit the Cuban people.” Other new rules permit certain foreign ships carrying certain cargo to travel directly to U.S. ports after docking in Cuba, the export of U.S. pesticides or tractors to Cuba without advance payment in cash and U.S. businesses to enter into binding contracts with Cubans that are contingent on the lifting of the U.S. embargo.

  1. U.S. Promotion of Economic Change in Cuba

The Directive states the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

Nevertheless the Directive recognizes as does the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) that “Due to Cuba’s legal, political, and regulatory constraints, its economy is not generating adequate foreign exchange to purchase U.S. exports that could flow from the easing of the embargo.” Helping to meet this economic problem, both the U.S. and the CPC also recognize, “With an estimated 1 in 4 working Cubans engaged in entrepreneurship, a dynamic, independent private sector is emerging. Expansion of the private sector has increased resources for individual Cubans and created nascent openings for Cuban entrepreneurs to engage with U.S. firms and nongovernmental organizations. We take note of the Cuban government’s limited, but meaningful steps to expand legal protections and opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, which, if expanded and sustained, will improve the investment climate.” While the Cuban government pursues its economic goals based on its national priorities, we will utilize our expanded cooperation to support further economic reforms by the Cuban government.”[6]

The Directive makes clear that the U.S. seeks and promotes Cuban economic reform that includes “the development of a private sector that provides greater economic opportunities for the Cuban people.”

  1. U.S. Promotion of Human Rights in Cuba

According to the Directive, Cuba continues with “repression of civil and political liberties.” As a result, the U.S. “will utilize engagement to urge Cuba to make demonstrable progress on human rights and religious freedom” and “continue to speak out in support of human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression, religion, association, and peaceful assembly as we do around the world. Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. . . . In pursuit of these objectives, we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.”

  1. U,S. Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba

The U.S. through private contractors with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department and other U.S. government agencies surreptitiously has been conducting what the U.S. calls “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba. Cuba rightfully and consistently has objected to such programs.[7]

Nevertheless, the Directive asserts the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

“While remaining committed to supporting democratic activists as we do around the world, we will also engage community leaders, bloggers, activists, and other social issue leaders who can contribute to Cuba’s internal dialogue on civic participation. We will continue to pursue engagements with civil society through the U.S. Embassy in Havana and during official [U.S.] Government visits to Cuba.”

“We will pursue democracy programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world.” (Emphasis added.) The State Department will continue to be responsible for “coordination of democracy programs” and “will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies. (Emphasis added.)

The Directive correctly anticipates that “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. democracy programs, [and] Radio and TV Marti.” This blog has consistently agreed with the Cubans on this issue because the so-called democracy programs are carried out surreptitiously by the U.S. How can they be promoting democracy if they are undercover? If indeed the U.S. wants to do so transparently, then they should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government.

Is the statement that such programs in Cuba are to be “consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies” supposed to be the purported justification for conducting such programs in Cuba secretly from its government?

  1. U.S. Special Immigration Rules for Cubans

Cuba repeatedly has called for the U.S. to end its special immigration benefits to Cubans: (a) the U.S. dry feet/wet feet policy that allows any Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. point of entry to be admitted into the U.S.; and (b) the U.S. Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy that allows such Cubans to gain entry to the U.S. as parolees from other countries. Therefore, the Directive correctly anticipates “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. migration policies and operations.”

This blog has concurred with Cuba’s objections to these policies.[8]

The Directive correctly recognizes that “significant emigration of working-age Cubans further exacerbates Cuba’s demographic problem of a rapidly aging population.” Yet the Directive fails to discuss either the specific U.S. immigration rules for Cubans themselves or their being one of the causes of this societal and economic problem for the island. This, in my opinion, is a major failing of the Directive.

Instead, the Directive merely states that the DHS “will safeguard the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, to include the facilitation of lawful immigration and ensure protection of refugees. The Secretary of Homeland Security (the United States Government lead for a maritime migration or mass migration) with support from the Secretaries of State and Defense, will address a maritime migration or mass migration pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with applicable interagency guidance and strategy.”

  1. U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay from Cuba

Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay for a naval base is “illegal” and that the U.S. should return this territory to Cuba while the U.S. consistently has rejected such allegations and demands. The Directive maintains this U.S. position; it states, “The [U.S.] Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which enables the [U.S.] to enhance and preserve regional security.”

This blog has analyzed this dispute, rejected Cuba’s unsupported allegation that the U.S. use of this territory is illegal and suggested that the dispute over Guantanamo be submitted to an international arbitration panel for resolution. A better solution, as this blog also has recommended, would be a renegotiation of the lease with a much larger annual rent to be paid by the U.S. Such a change, in my opinion, would provide Cuba with much-needed foreign exchange to pay its foreign obligations, including the undoubted obligation to pay U.S. nationals for expropriation of property at the start of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s. Returning the territory to Cuba, while it would probably provide an emotional boost to its pride, would which not add to its economy. In the background is the larger geopolitical threat to the U.S. if Russia (or China) and Cuba agree to the installation of Russian (or Chinese) military bases on the island.[9]

  1. Other Issues

Although the Directive is stated to be “comprehensive,” it does not mention at least the following serious unresolved issues that have arisen in the two countries’ discussions since December 17, 2014:

  • Cuba’s claims for over $ 300 billion of alleged damages resulting from the embargo and certain other U.S. actions;
  • Cuba’s claim against U.S.for unpaid rent for Guantanamo Bay, 1960 to date;
  • The U.S. claims for nearly $8 billion (including interest) for property owned by U.S. nationals that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early days of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s;
  • Mutual return of fugitives from the other’s criminal justice system.[10]

Conclusion

There are many reasons why a supporter of U.S.-Cuba normalization like this blogger should be happy over this Directive. It provides a roadmap for the complex U.S. governmental pursuit of normalization that should be helpful to a new U.S. president who wants to continue that pursuit. Moreover, many of the specifics are laudable, in this blogger’s opinion.

However, the Directive has failed to announce cessation of secretive “democracy promotion” programs for Cuba and special immigration benefits for Cubans, as urged by this blogger and others. In addition, as just noted, the Directive fails to cover some of the serious, unresolved issues between the two countries. All of these points, in this blogger’s opinions, are serious deficiencies.

Cuba immediately responded to this Directive.[11] Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s Director General of the United States, said the Directive “is a significant step in the process towards lifting the blockade and to the improvement of relations between the two countries. We consider it important that the Directive recognizes the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba, which should continue to be essential in relations between the two countries.” On the other hand, she noted, the Directive “does not hide the [U.S.] purpose of promoting changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.”

Yes, as President Obama recently said to the author of an article in The New Yorker, the President and many Americans, including this blogger, believe that changes in Cuban human rights and economy would be beneficial to the Cubans and the hemisphere. So long as the U.S. seeks these objectives above-board and with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government, both governments and peoples should be pleased.

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 [1] White House, Statement by the President on the Presidential Policy Directive on Cuba (Oct. 14, 2016); Davis, Obama, Cementing New Ties With Cuba, Lifts Limits on Cigars and Rum, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2016).

[2] This blog also repeatedly has pleaded with Congress to end the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[3] This blog has applauded these relaxations of restrictions. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015,” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[4] Reuters, Obama Eases Restrictions on Cuba, Lifts Limits on Rum and Cigars, N.Y. times (Oct. 14, 2016); Schwartz, U.S. Takes Additional Steps to Ease Restrictions on Trade, Ties with Cuba, W.S.J. (Oct. 14, 2016); Whitefield, Obama moves to make Cuba policies ‘irreversible,’ InCubaToday (Oct. 14, 2016).

[5] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Oct. 14, 2016).

[6] Raúl Castro as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba at its April 2016 Congress bluntly laid out Cuba’s economic problems, including state-owned enterprises’ inefficiencies, and the need to facilitate the growth and prosperity of private-owned businesses. (See Raúl Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016).) See also, e.g., Other Signs of Cuban Regime’s Distress Over Economy (April 21, 2016); Cuban Press Offers Positive Articles About the Island’s Private Enterprise Sector (June 1, 2016).

[7] This blog repeatedly has objected to these “democracy promotion” programs and called for any such programs to be conducted with the cooperation of Cuban authorities. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.)

[8] See posts listed in “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” and “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[9] This blog has discussed various issues relating to Guantanamo Bay. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[10] These issues have been discussed in posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” and “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA  and in and in Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives (Feb. 24, 2015).

[11] Ellizalde, Obama presidential directive is a significant step: Josefina Vidal, CubaDebate (Oct. 14, 2016).

Tom Hayden: Will U.S.-Cuba Normalization Fail Again?

[This is a re-posting of an August 15, 2014, article in The Democracy Journal by Tom Hayden, political activist for social justice, author and Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center. Article licensing information appears on tomhayden.com (http://tomhayden.com/), which granted permission for this re-posting. Many similar posts have been published on https://dwkcommentaries.com/tag/cuba/.%5D

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On May 12, President Obama held a confidential conversation in the White House with Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, the former Tupamaro guerrilla leader. The meeting was a fateful one. Did they discuss Uruguay’s becoming the first Marijuana Republic? Perhaps. Did they discuss the US-Cuba diplomatic impasse of 55 years? Most certainly, because three weeks later at an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in Uruguay the delegates reaffirmed a decision to officially invite Cuba to a summit in Panama next May.

The Obama administration will have to accept Cuba’s recognition by the OAS this spring or sit sheepishly in isolation. Fifty years ago, the OAS voted 15-4 to terminate all diplomatic relations and trade with revolutionary Cuba. Uruguay was one of the four dissenters in those days, when the revolutionary Mujica was underground, and has not changed its position over time. One doesn’t need gray hairs to observe that the US policy towards Cuba is obsolete and counter-productive. Ten years ago, then state Senator Barack Obama called for diplomatic recognition. Hillary Clinton recently revealed her support for recognizing Cuba as secretary of state. Recent polls, even in Florida, show majorities in favor of normalization. Inner circles in both countries are trying to explore a rapprochement, wary of pitfalls and domestic critics.

The most important recent change in US policy is the lifting of the travel ban on Cuban-Americans visiting the island. As many as 500,000 travel back and forth every year, visiting family, sharing dialogue, spending millions in remittances. On the Cuba side, all agree that Raul Castro has opened significant space for private investment and entrepreneurs once condemned as counter-revolutionary. Businesslike bilateral talks are underway about issues of mutual interest, from currency exchanges to potential oil spills.

The biggest obstacle, from the Cuban view, is a persistent US program of covert “democracy promotion” – or, regime change – aimed at subverting the Cuban government by funding dissident networks in Cuba. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”, is how US Sen. Patrick Leahy recently described the leaked revelations about a secret social media “Cuban twitter” program called ZunZuneo, after a Cuban hummingbird. One among fifty years of subversion projects, ZunZuneo was launched in 2009 after Obama spoke of building a new relationship. Its sponsor was the US Agency for International Development [AID], even after an AID contractor, Alan Gross, was arrested in Cuba for distributing communications equipment in violation of Cuban law.

Gross, now serving a 15 year sentence, is at the center of the heightened tensions now threatening normalization. Gross, 65, is widely reportedly in poor health and threatening to take his own life if he’s not released by next year. Should that occur, according to one top US official, it would end any hope of Cuba winning the return of one of its agents, Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban Five who were captured in DATE while surveilling anti-Castro Cubans flying into Cuban airspace to drop propaganda materials. When two exile pilots were shot down by the Cubans after warnings conveyed directly to the US government, the Five were imprisoned on conspiracy and espionage charges. Two have served their time in federal prisons and returned to Cuba. Two others will finish their terms shortly, leaving Gerardo Hernandez facing a double life sentence.

Prisoner swaps have occurred before, for example in 1978-79 when President Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro orchestrated the release of Puerto Rican nationalists who were imprisoned for shooting up the US House of Representatives in 1954. Although the releases were described as unrelated, the Puerto Ricans were pardoned and returned to their island while separately the US received a group of its agents held in Cuban prisons.

It would be logical therefore to swap Gross for Gerardo Hernandez, even if arranged separately, but nothing seems logical about the US-Cuban deadlock. According to interviews with participants, such a staged swap finally was being considered a few weeks ago – until the fiasco of the Obama administration’s trade of five Taliban officials for the return of the American POW, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl. Republicans, some Democrats and the mainstream media complained that the five-for-one deal favored the Taliban, and then the issue became inflamed by hazy reports that Bergdahl had abandoned his Afghan base and was perhaps “anti-war.”

The Obama team was flat-footed in their response, failing to notify even their top Congressional allies. That  failure violated a legal requirement that Congress be informed thirty days before any such deal, an obstacle that most likely would have killed the swap. But Democratic leaders were furious at not even being informed of the move.

That’s why Alan Gross remains behind bars in Cuba with no deal for his release remotely possible. With the Gross matter unresolved, the entire process of normalization could go off track.

Many in Washington view the Cubans as too stubborn in the Gross case. But the Cubans have been burned by unfulfilled promises and miscommunications many times over the decades, and leaving Gerardo Hernandez behind is unacceptable to them – just as Obama argued that leaving Pfc. Bergdahl behind was out of the question.

The Cuban dilemma is that if anything should happen to Gross they will never see Gerardo back and a rapprochement could slip away. It may sound shocking to many Americans, but the death of Alan Gross in a Cuban prison would serve the interests of some in the anti-Castro Cuban lobby that is deeply threatened by the prospects of normalization. The death of Gross would serve the narrative that Castro’s Cuba operates a heartless gulag, ignoring the many proven examples of Cuban exile terrorism directed from Miami against Cuban civilians, like the 73 Cubans killed in an airline bombing in 1976. Cuban exiles have been a perfect examples of the “cancer on the presidency”, the metaphor once used by Nixon aide John Dean. They were the lead conspirators in the 1972 Watergate break-in, and the 1976 assassinations of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronnie Moffett, on embassy row in Washington DC. Their violent attacks on Cuba from a Miami enclave are too numerous to document.

Cuba will make its own decision for its own reasons in the Gross case, and may have to make it soon. Since the Obama administration fears any appearance of a quid pro quo in the wake of the Bergdahl fiasco, should Cuba expect nothing in exchange for the release of Gross as a humanitarian gesture? That might depend on the initiative of the many in the US Congress who recognize that it’s long past time for a better relationship with Cuba. They could, for example, communicate private guarantees of White House action. They could try deleting the $20 million in federal funds for “democracy programs” in the wake of the ZunZuneo scandal. They could send a letter to Obama requesting Cuba’s removal from the list of four countries designated as “terrorist” states, which hampers Cuba’s access to financial capital. They could urge the president to lift the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba or spending US dollars there, thus undermining the current embargo. If they can’t do anything in response to a release of Gross, they could watch the prospect of normalization drift away.

Another recent crisis may shadow the US-Cuban process, revealing the complications of the impasse.. A long-planned improvement of relations between Russia, Cuba and Latin America is underway just at the moment when clouds of the Cold War are darkening the horizon over the Ukraine. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has just forgiven ninety percent of Cuba’s $30 billion debt owed to Russia for three decades, fueling the anti-communist suspicions of the Cuban Right. The arrangement is helpful to Cuba’s economy, long embargoed by the US, and adds a new counterweight against the US pressures on Cuba. If initial reports that Russia re-establishing a spy base on the island, that might chill the relationship further. Cuba, of course, has a sovereign right to accept a Russian base, especially as US regime change programs continue.

Whatever the spillover from the Bergdahl affair and the growing Russian-American conflict, however, nothing can stop the clock ticking towards 2015 when Obama has to decide whether to join the Organization of American States in restoring Cuba to equal membership. If that’s what the president’s confidential White House meeting with Uruguay’s Mujica in May was all about, the process of normalization may yet survive the remaining obstacles to resolution after five long decades.

Palestine Has Decided To Join the International Criminal Court

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi

On September 2nd at the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Hanan Ashraw, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said that Palestine has decided to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ever since Palestine obtained observer-state status at the U.N. in late 2012, over Israeli and U.S. opposition, Palestine’s government has threatened to join the Court as a way to prosecute Israeli actions in the occupied territories. But the PLO deferred a decision, Dr. Ashrawi said, in order to give U.S.-led diplomacy a chance to succeed.

The deferral also gave the P.L.O. leadership the opportunity to convince other Palestinian political factions, including the militants, that they would have more to gain than to lose from joining the ICC, including subjecting Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to its jurisdiction. The PLO leadership, Dr. Ashrawi said, “wanted to ensure that all factions are O.K. with it,” and now they are.

As a prior post reported, Palestine with observer-state status at the U.N. is eligible to join the ICC. The U.S. and Israel are opposed to such membership, but they cannot prevent it from happening.

Later this month, the Palestinians are planning another move to put more pressure on Israel. This will be a motion to have the U.N. Security Council demand that Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territory within three years. If such a motion is made, the U.S. is expected to veto the measure. Anticipating such a veto, the Palestinians may put the issue before the U.N. General Assembly, where Palestine has wide support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multilateral Human Rights Treaties That Have Not Been Signed and Ratified by the U.S.

The U.S. has a proud international human rights record. A prior post looked at the 19 significant multilateral human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

But this record is not perfect.

There are nine other such treaties that have been signed by the U.S., but not yet ratified, as discussed in another post.

In addition, there are at least seven other significant human rights treaties that the U.S. has not yet even signed, thereby negating the possibility of their being ratified by the U.S.[1] They are the following (with the dates they generally went into force):

  1. Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (3/23/1976);[2]
  2. Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (7/11/1991);[3]
  3. International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (7/1/2003);
  4. Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel. Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (6/22/2006);[4]
  5. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (12/23/2010));
  6. Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture (2/28/1987); and
  7. Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (4/22/1994).

This list plus the list of treaties signed, but not yet ratified, by the U.S., show that the work of U.S. human rights advocates is not finished.

We must continue to press for U.S. signing (in seven instances) and ratification of these 16 treaties. We also must continue to investigate possible violations of all human rights treaties all around the world. We must continue to take private action (where possible) to enforce these treaties. We must continue to press for enforcement of those treaties by the U.S., by other countries around the world and by international organizations. In the meantime, we must continue our efforts to educate people and governments about these important principles and international law of human rights.


[1] See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 138-39 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009).

[2] The Optional Protocol to the ICCPR grants the U.N. Committee on Human Rights jurisdiction to consider individuals’ complaints of alleged violations of the Covenant.

[3] The Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR seeks the abolition of the death penalty.

[4] The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture establishes the Subcommittee on Prevention and a system of regular inspections of places of detention by independent observers.

The Importance of Protecting Foreign Diplomats and Diplomatic Missions

People who are the full-time representatives of their home countries in foreign countries fulfill important responsibilities. They represent the policies and interests of their own governments and peoples to the governments and peoples of the foreign countries. They gather information about the policies and interests of the foreign governments and peoples and report that information to the diplomats’ own governments. They also make recommendations on policies to their own governments. They do all of this on foreign soil without the protections of their own governments.[1]

International Law Regarding Protection of Foreign Diplomats and Missions

All states need such diplomatic presences in other countries and hence have a common interest in having their diplomats and diplomatic premises protected by the foreign governments. Indeed, as preamble to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations state, having a treaty setting forth such protections “contribute[s] to the development of friendly relations among nations, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems” and hence to “the maintenance of international peace and security” under the U.N. Charter.

These common interests have existed for a long time and were the motivation for the well established international practice and custom of providing special protection and immunity from criminal jurisdiction for ambassadors. By the time of the Congress of Westphalia in 1648, permanent legations were accepted as the normal way of conducting international business among sovereign States, and over the next century detailed rules emerged in relation to the immunity of ambassadors and their accompanying families and staff from civil as well as criminal proceedings, the inviolability of their embassy premises and their exemption from customs duties and from taxes. These rules of customary international law were described in detail by early writers such as Grotius (1625), Bynkershoek (1721) and Vattel (1758).

The first international treaty or other instrument codifying any aspect of diplomatic law was the Regulation adopted by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Codification among States of immunities and privileges of diplomatic agents did not begin until the Havana Convention of 1928 drawn up among the States of the Pan-American Union and the Draft Convention drawn up in 1932 by the Harvard Research in International Law.

After the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, efforts to develop a comprehensive multilateral treaty on diplomatic relations began. The initial draft of such a treaty was produced in 1957, and its 1958 revision was the basis for the U.N. Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities in Vienna, Austria in March and April of 1961. On April 18, 1961, this Conference concluded with the signing of the Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which entered into force on April 24, 1964, after 22 states had ratified the treaty.

Now 187 of the 193 members of the U.N. are parties to this treaty. Its success may be ascribed first to the fact that the central rules regulating diplomatic relations had been stable for over 200 years. An embassy’s basic functions of representing the sending State and protecting its interests and those of its nationals, negotiation with the receiving State, observing and reporting on conditions and developments there remained and still remain unaltered. In addition, because the establishment of diplomatic relations and of permanent missions takes place by mutual consent, every State is both a sending and receiving State. Its own representatives abroad are in a sense hostages who may on a basis of reciprocity suffer if it violates the rules of diplomatic immunity, or may be penalized even for minor restrictions regarding privileges or protocol.

Article 22(2) of the Vienna Convention states, “The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.” In addition, Article 29 provides, “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.”

Recent Breaches of International Law Regarding Protection of Diplomats and Diplomatic Missions

The recent horrific attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts throughout the world, especially the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher (“Chris”) Stevens and three other U.S. citizens, are stark examples of the dangers facing all diplomats throughout history.

These attacks also represent breaches by many states of their important international legal obligation “to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission” and “to prevent any attack on [“the head of the mission or a member of the diplomatic staff of the mission”‘s ] . . . person, freedom or dignity.”

Ecuador’s Specious Allegation of the U.K.’s Breach of These Legal Obligations

These deplorable breaches also, in my opinion, show the utter speciousness of Ecuador’s complaint about the alleged failure of the United Kingdom to honor its important obligation with respect to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Ecuador had granted temporary lodgings, and subsequent diplomatic asylum, to Julian Assange.

Dispassionate analysis of the U.K.’s alleged written threat to invade the Embassy shows this not to be the case, as discussed in a prior post.

In addition, there were British police outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, but they were there to protect the Embassy and to arrest Assange if he tried to leave the Embassy. After all Assange had violated the terms of his bail by a British court by leaving a specific place west of London and surreptitiously entering the Embassy in order to avoid being arrested pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant to be sent to Sweden for investigations for his alleged criminal sexual conduct. In short, Assange was a fugitive from justice. Moreover, British police or other authorities never came close to entering the Ecuadorian Embassy. And no Ecuadorian diplomatic personnel were injured or even threatened.

By the way, negotiations between Ecuador and the U.K. to resolve their disputes over Assange apparently are deadlocked.


[1]  The many duties of diplomatic personnel and the dangers they face were well stated on Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Daily Circuit” by Ronald E. Neuman, President of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria, and Bahrain.

Should the International Criminal Court Indict George W. Bush and Tony Blair over Iraq?

Desmond Tutu

On September 2nd Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the retired South African Anglican Archbishop, said, “The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilized [sic] and polarised [sic] the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.” Therefore, Tutu continued, “In a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life [George W. Bush and Tony Blair] should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions [at the International Criminal Court] in the Hague.”

These remarks in London’s Observer newspaper followed Tutu’s withdrawal last week as a speaker at a conference in South Africa because Tony Blair was also to be a conference speaker.

Tony Blair

Tony Blair immediately responded to Tutu’s comments. Blair said, Tutu had repeated “the old canard that we lied about the intelligence [on Iraq] is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” In addition, according to Blair, “to say [as Tutu had] that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre.” Finally Blair claimed that “despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size with child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was.”

However morally appropriate Tutu was on his criticism of the decision to start the Iraq war, his call for ICC prosecution of Bush and Blair is not legally well founded.

That was the legal conclusion on February 9, 2006, by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor in response to many communications expressing concern regarding the launching of military operations and the resulting human loss. This conclusion was documented in a detailed memorandum by the ICC Prosecutor that set forth the following reasons:

  • The ICC did not have jurisdiction over any actions by Iraqi or U.S. citizens because Iraq and the U.S. were not States Parties to the Court’s Rome Statute.
  • Although the Court had jurisdiction over the crime of “aggression” under the Statute’s Article 5, that crime had not yet been defined and thus could not be a basis for any charges.[1]
  • Although there was information indicating war crimes of intentional killing and inhuman treatment had been committed, the information did not suggest that they were “part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes” as required by Article 8 of the Statute.
  • There was no information that the Coalition forces had an  “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such”, as required in the Statute’s definition of the crime of genocide (Article 6).
  • There was no information of “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population” as required in the Statute’s definition of crimes against humanity (Article 7).

Therefore, the Office of the Prosecutor stated the statutory requirements for initiating a formal investigation of the situation in Iraq had not been satisfied.[2]


[1] As discussed in a prior post, a definition of the crime of aggression was agreed to at the Court’s June 2010 Kampala Review Conference, but its actual use by the Court will not happen until after January 1, 2017 and only if there is a two-thirds vote of approval of the amendment by the Court’s Assembly of States Parties and ratification of the amendment by at least 30 States Parties.

[2] There are many posts about the ICC on this blog. To find them, just click on “International Criminal Court” in the tag cloud to the right of this post.

Ecuador’s Dispute with the United Kingdom and Sweden Over Julian Assange: Granting Asylum to Assange

On August 16, 2012, the Government of Ecuador made its decision to grant the petition for diplomatic asylum submitted by Julian Assange, an Australian national temporarily residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom (“the Decision”).[1] The U.K. and Sweden challenge the legitimacy of this action, and this post will explore the issues relating to this dispute.[2]

The Decision sets forth a list of what it describes as 12 “fundamental principles of general international law” regarding asylum that purportedly support its grant of asylum. These principles are said to be derived from, and supported by, Ecuador’s own laws regarding asylum and 16 international treaties and declarations.

The Decision also states what it deems to be the relevant facts for the application along with a summary of Ecuador’s efforts to cooperate with the governments of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. and the measures Ecuador will seek from the U.K. regarding Assange.

Let us examine these legal and factual assertions.

The Relevant Law

In its extensive legal discussion, the Decision fails even to mention what, in my opinion, is the essential first step in any such analysis: the International Court of Justice’s  judgment in 1950 that diplomatic asylum was not part of general international law.

In Colombian-Peruvian Asylum Case, I.C.J. Rep. 1950, p. 266 (Nov. 20, 1950), the court concluded, “A decision to grant diplomatic asylum involves a derogation [or departure] from the sovereignty of [the territorial] . . .  State [where the diplomatic premises are located]. It withdraws the offender from the jurisdiction of the territorial State and constitutes an intervention in matters which are exclusively within the competence of that State. Such a derogation from territorial sovereignty cannot be recognized [as a matter of general international law] unless its legal basis is established in each particular case.” Moreover, if the State granting diplomatic asylum had the “unilateral and definitive” authority to determine whether the offense of the asylum-seeker was a political or common crime, it would “aggravate . . . the derogation” and is “not inherent in the institution of diplomatic asylum.” (In addition, Judge Alvarez from Chile, dissenting in this case, said there also was no customary American international law of diplomatic asylum.)

Seven months later in the same case the ICJ rendered another judgment that stated, “The safety that arises out of [diplomatic] asylum cannot be construed as a protection against the laws and against the jurisdiction of legally constituted tribunals [of the host state].” (Haya de La Torre Case, I.C.J. Rep. 1951, p. 71 (June 13, 1951).)

Nor did Ecuador’s Decision refer in any way to the unsuccessful effort by Latin American countries to overrule the I.C.J. judgments by having diplomatic asylum recognized in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or the unsuccessful U.N. effort to prepare and adopt an international, multilateral treaty on the subject of diplomatic asylum. In 1977 the U.N.’s International Law Commission concluded that there was not sufficient interest to justify any further work on the subject.

Another response to these ICJ rulings was an Inter-American Conference in Caracas, Venezuela on March 28, 1954, that adopted the text of the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum. Today it is the only such treaty in the world, and Ecuador is one of the only 14 of the 35 states of the Organization of American States that have ratified that treaty.[3] In other words, 179 of the 193 U.N. member states have not adopted this or any similar treaty. The U.K. and Sweden, which are not in the Inter-American system, obviously are not parties to this treaty; nor is the U.S., which was eligible to sign and ratify. As a result, this treaty cannot and does not impose any legal obligations on the U.K., Sweden or the U.S.

It, therefore, is not too surprising that Ecuador’s Decision does not analyze the terms of this treaty for the current dispute although it is on the list of 16 international treaties and declarations that purportedly support the Decision.

Even more damning, the Decision does not address the clear problem facing all instances of diplomatic asylum, as pointed out in the ICJ judgment. A decision like Ecuador’s to grant asylum to someone in one of its embassies in a foreign country is at least a potential infringement upon the competence of that foreign country. Such an infringement or derogation cannot be ignored. Indeed, as discussed in a prior post, Article 41(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that “it is the duty of all persons enjoying such [diplomatic] privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State. . . .” In addition, Article 41(3) of that Convention provides that the “premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Instead of focusing on these clearly relevant legal issues, Ecuador’s Decision merely lists 15 other treaties and declarations that mention asylum while not offering direct legal support for the Decision. They are the following:

  • All four of the countries involved in the current dispute are parties to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is the major general treaty on refugees and asylum and which was discussed in a prior post. But it does not apply for various reasons. Assange cannot claim he has a “well-founded fear of persecution” on certain grounds in his home country of Australia, and the treaty excludes “any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that . . . [he] has committed a serious non-political crime [here, in Sweden]  outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee . . . .”
  • Ecuador was a state party to five of the other cited treaties that mentioned asylum, but they are not relevant to the current application or grant of asylum.[4]
  • Another four treaties mention asylum, but they are from other regions of the world, and Ecuador is not, and could not be, a state party to them.[5]
  • One treaty does not mention asylum at all. Instead it is a treaty on the interpretation of treaties.[6]
  • The last four of the 16 cited sources are declarations, not treaties, and thus are not sources of binding international legal obligations on any state.[7]

Nor is the possibility of the U.S.’ seeking or imposing the death penalty on Assange for the crime of making public secret U.S. documents “persecution” under international law. Under Article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant . . . .  This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.” [8]

The U.K. and Sweden as well as other countries in Europe, however, have a different opinion regarding the propriety of the death penalty after initially permitting such in Article 2(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1953. This changed in 1985, when Protocol No. 6 to this treaty went into force and provided in Article 1, “The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or execution.” [9]

As a result, those 46 European states that have ratified Protocol No.6, including the U.K. and Sweden, routinely deny requests to extradite suspects to the U.S. when there are true risks of the imposition of the death penalty.

Indeed, the U.S.’ extradition treaty with the European Union, to which both the U.K. and Sweden belong, expressly provides that when an offense for which extradition is sought is punishable by death under the law of the requesting state [here theoretically, the U.S.] but not under the law in the requested state [here theoretically, the U.K. or Sweden], the requested state may grant the extradition on condition that the death penalty shall not be imposed or if imposed shall not be carried out. A similar provision is included in the recent extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K.

Assange, therefore, cannot have a “well-founded fear” of imposition of the death penalty even if it were regarded as “persecution,” which it is not.

Perhaps Ecuador was implicitly suggesting that the 11 of the 16 listed instruments that occurred after the previously mentioned ICJ decision of 1950 changed the general international law regarding diplomatic asylum. The Decision hints at this when it said, “The lack of international convention or internal legislation of the States cannot be legitimately claimed to limit, impinge or deny the right to asylum.” But a recent  treatise on public international law asserts that this type of asylum is not part of general international law as does a recent thesis at the University of Leiden,  a contemporary expert and London’s Economist.  Ecuador’s veiled contrary suggestion, I submit, is patently ridiculous.

The U.K. certainly disagrees with Ecuador’s legal argument.

On August 17th (the day after the grant of asylum), the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that the U.K. “was disappointed” in this decision and would not allow Assange safe passage out of the country. “The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. It is far from a universally accepted concept: the [U.K.] is not a party to any legal instruments which require us to recognize the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country. Moreover, it is well established, even for those countries which do recognize diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts.” In addition, the U.K. has “painstakingly explained the extensive human rights safeguards built into our law.”

These points were reiterated at the August 24th OAS meeting by the UK’s Permanent Observer, Philip Barton. He said the U.K. was not party to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum, and “there is no legal basis for the [U.K.] to meet the request of . . . Ecuador to grant safe passage for Mr. Assange out of the [U.K.].” He also said the U.K. has advised Ecuador about “the safeguards in place under the European Convention on Human Rights, international law, European Union law and [U.K.] law [that] fully address the concerns raised by Mr. Assange and by . . . Ecuador.”

Observer Barton further told the OAS meeting representatives that the purported concern about Assange’s human rights upon extradition to Sweden was “completely unfounded,” and an “argument to this effect was comprehensively rejected by the courts in the UK.” The U.K. and Swedish courts “robustly implement and adhere to the highest standards of human rights protection.”

In any event, the Decision’s legal argument, in my opinion, is not persuasive.

The Relevant Facts

The Decision starts its statement of the relevant facts with the noncontroversial: Assange is a communication professional with international awards for his struggle for freedom of expression, freedom of press and human rights, and through WikLeaks he has publicized documents from different sources. The Decision then provides more contentious, and I think unfounded, assertions.

According to Ecuador’s Decision, the U.S. and other countries that produced these documents have threatened retaliation risking Assange’s safety, integrity and even his life and have refused to provide guarantees to protect his life and safety. Extradition of Assange to a third country outside the European Union [the U.S.] is feasible without the proper guarantees for his safety and personal integrity. If extradited to the U.S., Assange would not have a fair trial; he could be judged by a special or military court; and he probably would receive cruel and demeaning treatment and be condemned to a life sentence or the death penalty.

Other than stating the U.S. is not a party to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum, the U.S. has declined to comment on the merits of the dispute and has urged trilateral negotiations by the parties to resolve the dispute. There, however, is no credible evidence for Assange and Ecuador’s impugning the independence of fairness of the U.S. federal judicial system, and any risk of capital punishment in the U.S. would be eliminated by the European practice and law forbidding extradition to other countries where there is a risk of such punishment.

Any accusation against the independence and honesty of the U.K. courts is absurd. Indeed, Assange in 2011-2012 challenged his extradition to Sweden on the merits in the U.K. courts (magistrate’s court, High Court and Supreme Court) without any objection to the procedural rights he was accorded.

Ecuador’s Decision also has harsh allegations against the Swedish prosecutor’s office with respect to its ongoing investigation of Assange on criminal sexual charges. That office allegedly has prevented Assange from the total exercise of his legitimate right to defense to criminal charges. His procedural rights allegedly have been infringed during that investigation. Pretrial detention of Assange in Sweden would facilitate his extradition to a third country, i.e., the U.S.

Sweden has strongly rejected these charges. It did so at meetings with Ecuador’s Ambassador in Stockholm shortly after June 19th (when Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London) and on August 16th. This rebuttal, in part, emphasized that in the last months of 2010 Assange challenged the European Arrest Warrant on the merits in Swedish courts (district court, court of appeal and Supreme Court) without any objection to the procedural protections of Swedish law.

In addition, after Assange was in temporary “residence” at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Sweden rejected his offer to be interrogated at that Embassy with respect to the Swedish investigation. Sweden did so because it wanted to confront Assange in Sweden with the existing evidence and conduct supplementary interviews of others depending upon what Assange had to say. The Swedish prosecutors also wanted him in their country to assure his presence at any criminal trial that might result from the investigation, as required by their law.

At the OAS meeting on August 24th, a Swedish diplomat stressed that Sweden had an independent judiciary that needed to proceed with investigation of Assange’s alleged sexual offenses. There had been no request to Sweden for extradition to a third country, she added, but European and Swedish law prohibits extradition when there is a risk of capital punishment.

The Decision also says the governments of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. will “not respect the international conventions and treaties and would give priority to internal laws of secondary hierarchy, contravening explicit norms of universal application.” It is difficult to understand exactly what Ecuador means by this allegation. If it means that the U.K., Sweden and the U.S. do not agree with Ecuador’s legal argument, then that is certainly correct.

In summary, there is no credible evidence to support the extreme accusations against the judicial systems of the U.K., Sweden and the U.S.

Conclusion

Ecuador’s granting of asylum to Assange, in my opinion, is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts. Indeed, there is speculation in the press that the real reason for President Correa’s deciding to grant “asylum” in this case was to enhance his own political standing in his own country for next year’s presidential election.

Other than litigating these issues before the International Court of Justice or arbitrating or mediating them before a neutral third party, the only other peaceful way to resolve this dispute is for the parties to do so through diplomatic negotiations, as recommended by the OAS on August 24th.

——————————————————-

[1] According to the Decision, Assange’s written asylum application was submitted on June 19th with a June 25th written supplement, but neither of these documents is publicly available. This secrecy seems more than ironic for the self-proclaimed advocate for public transparency and disclosure. It also is ironic for Ecuadorian President Correa, who is known for his hostility to the press, to be the defender and protector of Assange.

[2] A prior post set forth the background for this dispute, and another post discussed the issue of the inviolability of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

[3]  The other 13 parties to the Inter-American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum are Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

[4] U.N. Charter, Art. 1(3) (one of U.N. purposes is achieving “universal cooperation in . . . promoting and encouraging respect for human rights”); American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 22.7 (“Every person has the right to seek and be granted asylum in a foreign territory, in accordance with the legislation of the state and international conventions, in the event he is being pursued for political offenses or related common crimes”); Inter-American Convention for Extradition (no extradition when “the person sought has been tried or sentenced or is to be tried before an extraordinary or ad hoc tribunal of the requesting State” (Art. 4.3) or when “the offense for which the person is sought is a political offense, an offense related thereto, or an ordinary criminal offense prosecuted for political reasons” (Art. 4.4) or when “persecution for reasons of race, religion or nationality is involved, or that the position of the person sought may be prejudiced for any of these reasons” (Art. 4.5): and Convention may not “be interpreted as a limitation on the right of asylum when its exercise is appropriate” (Art. 6)); Inter-American Convention on Territorial Asylum, (“Every State has the right, in the exercise of its sovereignty, to admit into its territory such persons as it deems advisable” (Art. I); this includes persons who “are persecuted for their beliefs, opinions, or political affiliations, or for acts which may be considered as political offenses” (Art. II); no “obligation to surrender to another State, or to expel from its own territory, persons persecuted for political reasons or offenses” (Art. III); no extradition of persons “sought for political offenses, or for common offenses committed for political ends, or when extradition is solicited for predominantly political motives” (Art. IV)); Geneva Convention [IV] Relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Art. 45 (“In no circumstances shall a protected person be transferred to a country where he or she may have reason to fear persecution for his or her political opinions or religious beliefs”).

[5] African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Art. 12.3 (“Every individual shall have the right, when persecuted, to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with laws of those countries and international conventions”); European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, Art. 46 (“Every citizen of the [European] Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he or she is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as t he nationals of that Member State”); European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, Art. 5 (“no obligation to extradite if the requested State has substantial grounds for believing that the request for extradition . . . has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or that that person’s position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons”); European Extradition Treaty, Art. 3.1 (“Extradition shall not be granted if the offence in respect of which it is requested is regarded by the requested Party as a political offence or as an offence connected with a political offence”).

[6] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 53 (“treaty is void if . . . it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law . . . . [i.e.,] a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character”), Art. 64 (“If a new peremptory norm of general international law emerges, any existing treaty which is in conflict with that norm becomes void and terminates”), Art. 66(b) (A party to a “dispute concerning the application or the interpretation of article 53 or 64 may . . .submit it to the International Court of Justice for a decision”).

[7]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 14 (“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the [U.N.]”);U.N. Declaration on Territorial Asylum (recommends territorial asylum practices include asylum for “persons struggling against colonialism” (Art. 1.1) , non-rejection of persons at the frontier and non-explusion to state where person may be subjected to persecution (Art. 3.1)); American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Art. 27 (“Every person has the right, in case of pursuit not resulting from ordinary crimes, to seek and receive asylum in foreign territory, in accordance with the laws of each country and with international agreements”); Cartegena Declaration (at 1984 meeting to discuss protection of refugees in Central America, Mexico & Panama, reiteration of “importance of non-refoulement (including the prohibition of rejection at the frontier)”).

[8]  In addition, Article 1 (1) of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment states that “torture” “does not include pain or suffering arising from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

[9]  It should be noted that Protocol No. 6 had an exception that allowed the death penalty in times of war, but in 1988, Protocol No. 13 to the European Human Rights Convention eliminated this exception. Both the U.K. and Sweden have ratified Protocol No. 13.

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. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of the United States’ Human Rights Record

U.N. Human Rights council Chamber

The U.N. Human Rights Council since 2006 has been an important arm of the United Nations in recognizing and helping to enforce international human rights norms in the world. One of the ways it does this is its Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) of individual U.N. member states.

The UPR is universal in that all 193 U.N. members and all human rights norms are reviewed once every four years. Such Review is to be “based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States.” This is to be done with “a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned.” 

The UPR process involves (a) the state’s submission of a report to the Council, (b) submission of written questions and recommendations to the state from other states and stakeholders (human rights NGO’s, etc.), (c) a hearing by the Council, (d) the preparation of a draft report on the state by a Council working group, (e) the state’s comments on that report, (f) another hearing before the Council and (g) the Council’s adoption of a report on the outcome of the UPR.

In August 2010 the U.S. submitted its first UPR report to the Council. Three months later the Council considered this report and other documentation. The hearing for this UPR was held on November 5th in Geneva, Switzerland, and on November 9th, the Council debated the outcome of this UPR. The U.S. was represented at these meetings by high-level officials of the State Department and of other departments.

On January 4, 2011, the Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. issued its final report on this UPR. It set forth a compilation of all the 228 recommendations of the states, many of which were repetitive and some of which related to very specific issues with individual countries. These recommendations were not endorsed by the Working Group as a whole. The following is a summary of the major recommendations:

  • ratify or accede to (without reservations) the many multilateral human rights treaties that the U.S. has not joined, including the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute;
  • revoke the reservations and declarations the U.S. has made to those human rights treaties it has ratified or acceded to;
  • abolish or reduce the use of capital punishment (the death penalty);
  • close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility;
  • prosecute and punish U.S. personnel who commit torture and other human rights violations and take measures to eliminate torture and compensate victims of past torture;
  • improve conditions for inmates in U.S. prisons;
  • improve U.S. laws and practices regarding immigrants;
  • recognize and implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • increase efforts to combat racial discrimination and inequalities; and
  • establish an independent national human rights institute.

On March 8, 2011, the U.S. submitted its written response to this final report. Ten days later (March 18th), the Council held its final hearing [paragraphs 721-56, 772] on the UPR of the U.S.

The U.S. representatives opened the hearing by stating that the UPR “has been a useful tool to assess how the USA can continue to improve in achieving its own human rights goals” and that the U.S. had carefully reviewed all 228 recommendations and made detailed written comments on the recommendations. The U.S. then summarized its detailed responses to the following nine major groups of recommendations:

  1. The U.S. supports recommendations concerning improving civil rights and anti-discrimination. It noted that the U.S. had adopted the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act and that the Department of Justice had established a Fair Lending Unit and had increased its enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination in voting, employment, public accommodations and education and hate crimes.
  2. With respect to recommendations about criminal justice, the U.S. continued to work to ensure protection of the rights of detainees and inmates in its jails and prisons, and the State of Illinois had abolished the death penalty.
  3. With respect to the rights of indigenous peoples, the U.S. committed itself to improve tribal consultations, and in December 2010 President Obama announced U.S. support for the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  4. With respect to national security, the U.S. stated that it abides by all applicable law, including those respecting humane treatment, detention and use of force and will not tolerate torture or inhumane treatment of detainees wherever they are held. The U.S. also has reiterated its intention to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and its commitment to not treat entire communities as a threat to national security based upon their race, religion or ethnicity. The U.S. also announced the Administration’s intent to adhere to the humane treatment and fair trial standards of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions and to seek the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate to U.S. ratification of the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions.
  5. With respect to immigration, the U.S. was accepting many of the recommendations, was reviewing its handling of “emergent” immigration cases and was improving immigration detainee access to medical care.
  6. With respect to economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, the U.S. noted that it had established a commission to examine disparities in educational opportunities and address children’s needs in distressed communities and that it had made grants to support health centers and improve access to health care by the uninsured.
  7. The U.S. has long been a leader in fighting against human trafficking and recently had launched a media campaign in Mexico and Central America with information on the dangers of human trafficking and how to avoid becoming a victim. The U.S. also was a leader in workplace protections and was strengthening efforts to respond to gender wage differences and to educate the public about the civil rights of immigrant workers.
  8. The U.S. was committed to a robust domestic implementation of its international human rights obligations.
  9.  The U.S. also had “pushed” for Senate advice and consent to ratification of a number of human rights and other treaties, including Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions.[1]  But in its written comments on the recommendations the U.S. specifically rejected the recommendations that the U.S. ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute.

The hearing then was opened for comments by the Council’s members and other states. Ten states did so: Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Algeria, China, Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, Morocco and Botswana. Thereafter 10 other relevant stakeholders, including Human Rights Watch, made comments. The U.S. then made a brief closing comment, saying that the “UPR process is an opportunity to shape an agenda for future work. Human rights are American core values and interests . . . [and] the U.S. focuses on the substance of a process of continuing self-examination and dialogue.”

The Council then adopted without a vote its working group’s report on the outcome of the UPR of the U.S. Note that the Council did not make any factual findings or determinations of violations or recommendations. It merely facilitated the process.

In addition to the final Working Group report and the U.S. response thereto, the written record for the UPR of the U.S. included (a) a report by the U.S. itself; (b) the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ compilation of information about the U.S. from the reports of human rights treaty bodies, special procedures and other U.N. documents; and (c) submissions from 103 “stakeholders,” including human rights NGOs. The submission by a coalition of U.S. human rights NGOs on the subject of immigration and asylum was prepared by Minnesota’s Advocates for Human Rights.

Finally it should be noted that from 2006 through 2008 during the George W. Bush Administration, the U.S. did not participate in the Council’s activities, but since then in the Obama Administration it has done so. This includes the U.S. seeking membership on the Council in 2009 and being elected to such status for a term that ends on December 31, 2012.


[1] Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions was submitted to the U.S. Senate on January 29, 1987, by President Reagan, and on March 7, 2011, President Obama  urged “the Senate to act as soon as practicable on . . .  Protocol [II], to which 165 States are a party. An extensive interagency review concluded that United States military practice is already consistent with the Protocol’s provisions. Joining the treaty would not only assist us in continuing to exercise leadership in the international community in developing the law of armed conflict, but would also allow us to reaffirm our commitment to humane treatment in, and compliance with legal standards for, the conduct of armed conflict.” Nevertheless, there has been no actionwhatsoever on this treaty by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations or the Senate itself in the 25 years after its submission to that body. This is not surprising given the political composition of the Senate and the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds (67) vote for the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification of a treaty.

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