Human Rights News - April 2011

  Security Council refers Libya to International Criminal Court

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya following a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Resolution 1970, adopted on 26 February, imposes an arms embargo on Libya and calls for the freezing of the assets of six members of the Gaddafi family. It also calls for a travel ban on the family and other senior officials of the regime, and asks member states to provide humanitarian assistance to the Libyan population.

The Prosecutor has listed a number of incidents that allegedly occurred in Libya since 15 February, as well as individuals who appear to have authority over the security forces. These include Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle, several Libyan high officials and the minister of foreign affairs.

Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the IBA, said: ‘The referral by the UN Security Council represents another milestone for international justice, ensuring that accountability trumps impunity for the most egregious international crimes.’

The Libyan uprising against Gaddafi’s 42-year-rule began in January, after unrest in Tunisia and Egypt spread throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East. Since 15 February, news reports have confirmed an escalating level of violence throughout the country. On 2 March, the Libyan League for Human Rights estimated there had been 6,000 casualties from the clashes.

This is the second time in the ICC’s history that the Security Council has used its power under the Charter of the UN and ICC Statute to refer a situation to the Court. It is the first time such a referral has been decided unanimously and with such swiftness.

Crimes against humanity is one of four crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the Court. The Prosecutor is not bound by the Security Council referral and could redefine or expand the charges to war crimes, crimes of aggression and/or genocide.

The Prosecutor has indicated he expects to be able to request an arrest warrant within in a few months.

Violent protests in Tunisia put rule of law centre stage

Unemployed Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi died in hospital on 4 January, having set himself on fire 18 days earlier after police confiscated the vegetable stall from which he had eked a living. Bouazizi was the only victim of his act of desperation, but it sparked a conflagration that quickly led to the flight of the country’s president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The rest of the world was taken almost wholly by surprise.

Ben Ali’s regime had received the tacit blessing of Western countries because while they knew it to be brutal and oppressive, it also met some of their criteria for respectability. Human Rights Watch senior researcher Eric Goldstein in Tunis told the IBA: ‘For them the important thing was that in some key respects, Tunisia delivered. It appeared stable. It was secular. The economy was strong. It helped to tackle illegal immigration and drugs trafficking. Women had a high standing in society. Tunisia did nothing to fan the flames in the Israel-Palestine dispute. It made all the right noises about fighting terrorism.’

In purely economic terms, Tunisia was and is considerably richer than its neighbours, with higher rates of employment and living standards, despite not possessing oil.

France, the US and the UK did little or nothing to upset the country’s carefully nurtured image as a laid-back ‘fun-in-the-sun’ destination for holidaymakers. Those same governments, however, received regular reports from human rights organisations detailing the use of torture, harassment of dissidents and a stifling of the media that saw the country ranked only marginally above Libya regarding press freedom.

According to Goldstein, typical targets were secular critics, including members of opposition parties, journalists, trade unions, student leaders and judges who spoke out against government attempts at influencing the outcome of court proceedings. Also under attack were those suspected of Islamist sympathies, regardless of whether they had planned or were planning acts of violence. An anti-terrorism law passed in 2003 has been heavily criticised for the broad and vague definition of terrorism at its heart.

In June 2010, a report published by the Index on Freedom of Expression Exchange detailed how the Tunisian Association of Magistrates fought hard to maintain the independence of the judiciary against a campaign of intimidation by the ministry of justice. Typically, critics of the government within the judiciary were either sacked or jailed, or relocated to remote places far from the capital, in a manner reminiscent of the exile of intellectuals during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Read the full article on the IBA website:

Terrorism and international law: New york launch

The IBA’s leading book on terrorism, Terrorism and International Law: Accountability, Remedies and Reform, was officially launched with a high level panel discussion in New York on 23 March.

The IBA and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) jointly organised the event, which was attended by Justice Richard Goldstone, fi rst Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Co-Chair of the IBAHRI.

Other attendees included Jonathan Fanton, Chair of Human Rights Watch, David Tolbert, President of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, Jim Goldston, Executive Director of OSJI, and Julia Hall, Senior Counsel of Counter-Terrorism at Amnesty International.

The report, edited by the IBA Task Force on Terrorism, a group of world famous jurists, gives a global overview of counter-terrorism measures and offers recommendations for reform. It is available for purchase from the IBA online shop: The event was fi lmed and the webcast can be viewed at:

Concern over missing lawyers in China

Three human rights lawyers have gone missing in China, allegedly taken away by Chinese police. Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong and Teng Biao disappeared in February following a meeting about the continued detention of blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng. Their homes were also searched and their computers, DVDs, books and photographs were seized.

The IBAHRI wrote to the Chinese authorities on 10 March to express concern over the disappearances. It also issued a public statement to attract media attention during March’s annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the only legislative house in the People’s Republic of China. The statement urged the Government to release the three lawyers and to cease its persecution of human rights lawyers.

The situation of lawyers in China is becoming of increasing concern. Only a small minority of lawyers have become involved with civil and political rights or broader public interest cases, and they are increasingly the targets of intimidation and abuse. Lawyers are also subject to strict influence from the Ministry of Justice, especially through the annual licence renewal system. Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair, said: ‘To have disputes heard and determined by an independent judiciary in a fair trial is a fundamental right of world citizens and crucial to safeguarding a just rule of law. The ability of lawyers to practise freely, without fear of harassment or undue persecution, is vital to the fulfi lment of this right.’

Catherine Baber, Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacifi c Programme, Amnesty International, said: ‘The situation for Chinese lawyers – especially those who take on “sensitive” cases, such as those involving Falun Gong practitioners, forced evictions, or “house” churches – is growing worse. In fact, as we note in an upcoming Amnesty International report, 2010 marked one of the darkest years for the legal profession in China since the country embarked on legal reforms in the late 1970s. And we fear worse may yet come.

‘Amnesty International is shocked the country’s leaders show so little respect for the rule of law, even though they have promised to build a more modern and just legal system. Lawyers around the world should continue to speak out in defence of their Chinese counterparts who suffer from harassment, illegal detention, and torture. Amnesty International continues to call on the Chinese government to end the persecution of human rights defenders including lawyers and honour its pledge to build a country that respects the rule of law.’

Annual Report

The IBAHRI has released its 2010 Annual Report, marking the 15th year of the organisation. The 60-page report provides an overview of all projects, programmes and publications of the IBAHRI over the past year. It also outlines recent IBAHRI initiatives designed to assist the enforcement of human rights, a just rule of law and the independence of the judiciary across the globe.

Juan Méndez, IBAHRI Co-Chair and UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, said: ‘2010 was a remarkable year for the IBAHRI. Its work was expanded to new countries and the scope of projects widened. These achievements have been made possible by the expertise and support of our partners.

‘We are extremely fortunate to work with others who share our visions and help us achieve our objectives in respect to human rights and the rule of law, through building capacity, lobbying for change and providing a platform to discuss issues of international concern.’

Read the report here:

Legal training: DR Congo and The Sudan

The IBAHRI has forged partnerships to provide legal training across the world, focusing primarily on human rights and international criminal law.

Alongside the Lubumbashi Bar, the IBAHRI presented a workshop on international criminal law in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, on 24 and 25 February. The event, attended by over 100 lawyers, offered participants the opportunity to hear from international criminal law experts and to put their newly-acquired knowledge to the test through group exercises.

A variety of topics were covered during the workshop, including defence issues, the latest developments before the International Criminal Court, complementarity and modes of criminal responsibility.

Marie-Pierre Oliver, Senior Programme Lawyer from the IBAHRI, said: ‘The IBA legal specialist has worked relentlessly during the past eight months to raise lawyers’ awareness of the importance of continuing legal education. The high level of attendance to the international criminal law workshop and the dynamic participation of all lawyers present show the message has been well received. Members of the Lubumbashi Bar are keen to maintain their skills and keep learning.’

Participant Lorraine Om’ndus Nyota said: ‘The most interesting part of the course was the presentation on the call for African women lawyers, by Mr Esteban Peralta from the ICC registry. This campaign has raised the spirits of many women lawyers, but many are discouraged when they see the conditions of access to the Court because they are still new to the Bar. It would be interesting to organise access for all levels, even for women lawyers who for example have two or three years’ experience, not only those who just have five or ten years’.’

The IBAHRI also partnered with the Human Rights and Social Justice Research Centre (HRSJ) at London Metropolitan University for a training course on human rights and international criminal law for members of the Darfur Bar Association in Geneva. The week-long event, from 28 February to 7 March, proved popular, and participants had the opportunity to attend the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Global parliamentarian handbook : Westminster launch

The Westminster Consortium for Parliaments and Democracy (TWC) joined forces with the IBAHRI on 29–30 March to bring together members, parliamentary officials and local partners from Georgia, Lebanon, Mozambique, the UK, Uganda and Ukraine for a two-day workshop on human rights and the role of parliaments across the globe.

This rare opportunity to unite partners and members from a diverse global community marked the release of the seminal IBA/TWC Handbook on Human Rights and Parliaments.

The IBA, as part of TWC, has conducted a series of training courses for parliaments in Georgia, Lebanon, Mozambique, Uganda and Ukraine over the past few years. The inaugural handbook, incorporating case studies from the UK and each of the TWC countries, is designed to assist further parliamentary strengthening work in the future.

Fiona Wilson, IBAHRI Co-Director, said: ‘Governments play a vital role in upholding the rule of law and safeguarding human rights, and the two day event provided a unique opportunity for members and officials from each of the participating countries to share expertise and to discuss key human rights issues, challenges and aspirations for parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.’


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