Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will reportedly lift human rights conditions on an arms sale to Bahrain, despite that country’s record of oppression against dissidents and participation in a Saudi-led coalition that has bombed thousands of civilians in Yemen. Yemen is one of the six Muslim-majority countries included in Trump’s revised travel ban executive order.
Sunjeev Bery, an advocacy director with Amnesty International USA, made the following statement in response:
“While getting weapons from the U.S., Bahrain’s government is silencing critics at home and participating in a military coalition that is bombing civilians in Yemen. This deal sends a dangerous signal to Bahrain and all other countries that engage in serious human rights violations. It is particularly galling to arm these governments while simultaneously barring those fleeing violence entrance to the U.S. These deals place the U.S. at risk of being complicit in war crimes, and discourage other countries, like Saudi Arabia, from addressing their own human rights records.”
This press release was published on Amnesty International USA website on March 30, 2017.
By Andreea Leonte and Valentina Crivăț
For two weeks in March, the Great Hall of the People in Beijing played host to one of the most important yearly meetings in China. Gathering from across the country, 2,987 parliamentarians, with a majority of 2,157 being members of the Communist Party, and stakeholders from nongovernmental sectors joined the fifth session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), respectively. As the two events usually take place together, they are jointly referred to as the “two sessions” or the “two assemblies.”
According to the Chinese Constitution, the NPC is the most important political body nationwide, with the power to legislate, oversee the operations of the government, and elect the major officers of the state. However, critics say that these powers are just de jure and that, in fact, the Communist Party decides on all major issues, which is why NPC has been commonly referred to as a “rubber stamp” Parliament by Western media. Unlike the NPC, the CPPCC has no legislative power. As its own name suggests, the CPPCC is a consultative body with many of its 2,000 members not members of the Communist Party. Among them are some of China’s most popular figures, like the actor Jackie Chan, the basketball player Yao Ming, or Wang Jianling, the owner of Wanda Group and also China’s richest businessman.
During the two sessions, the Communist Party announced its intention to introduce a comprehensive Civil Code, designed to improve the existing civil rules that are scattered throughout many pieces of legislation. This is part of a broader plan to reform the country’s legal system by 2020. The ambitious reform agenda was announced three years ago during the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in October 2014.
Following the inauguration of the civil code, many laws currently regulating various aspects of a civil nature, such as contract law, tort law, adoption law, marriage law, etc., will most likely be completely or partially abolished. The civil code will follow the general principles of the civil law and the principles set out in the Chinese Constitution. However, the new code is expected to shed more light on some rather obscure areas of law that need further legislation, for instance with regard to property, family relations, and personal rights, which we will discuss below.
Private property is protected under Article 13 of the 1982 Chinese Constitution, as amended in 2014. The discussion on property rights becomes sensitive when it comes to land ownership. In China, a country with a powerful socialist heritage, land can only be owned by the state or by collective organizations; private entities can only buy the right to use the land for a limited number of years. According to the existing legislation, land-use rights – “usufructuary rights” – can be granted for a maximum of 70 years, after which the law is not very clear on what will happen. Thus, individuals in China can own their houses and apartments, but they cannot own the land on which these buildings are constructed, nor can they own the natural resources underneath. The land-use rights are transferable, however, observers say that the market for land prices is monopolized by the government, even when the land is owned by a collective.
The poor enforcement of real estate property rights is mirrored by the numerous land-seizures seen during the past years, many a direct consequence of China’s urbanization process. This situation is particularly damaging for businesses, as it makes investors reluctant to engage in economic activities, knowing that the land on which they are conducting their businesses is vulnerable to government decisions, sometimes at a moment’s notice. The new private property guidelines are thus expected to strengthen the property rights regime and provide more protection for private property, by narrowing the interpretation of “public interest” as a means to prevent abusive expropriations. Likewise, a mandatory condition for all acts taken by the state in relation to private property to be publicized would highly contribute to increasing political trust in China.
The new civil code will touch upon family relations as well. However, it isn’t clear how deep the new rules will go onto the matter, since China already has in place several laws pertaining to adoption, marriage, and other aspects related to family life. Whether the Civil Code is going to replace these laws remains to be seen. More importantly, in recent years, China has become aware of major challenges approaching at a fast pace, among which the aging of its population raises the most concerns. In a United Nations Report, it was estimated that, by 2050, each retiree in China will be supported by 2.1 people in the workforce. Against a background of slowing economic growth, this prediction does not seem very optimistic.
But perhaps the most worrisome for the public consciousness is the fact that an ever-increasing number of elderly people are being abandoned by their children, who plunge headlong into very competitive urban centers in search of a better life. This phenomenon is aggravated by the similar situation of the many children left behind by parents who leave their homes seeking higher incomes, hopeful that they will be able to provide a better future for their children. The new guidelines are thus expected to address the guardianship issue and to put in place better protections for these highly vulnerable people.
The topic of the aging crisis was brought up with great concern during the NPC Session, as 8.86 million people turned 60 in 2016. Every day 24,000 people turn 60 in China, meaning one person every four seconds. Considering that, the NPC proposed a series of measures to improve elderly care services, including crafting a multi-pillar, fairer, and more sustainable social security system by 2020. The plan is to offer basic old-age insurance coverage for 90 percent of residents and basic medical insurance for more than 95 percent of them; also, government-run nursing homes will account for at least 30 percent of the nation’s total nursing beds for the elderly. Other efforts will be directed toward improving elderly access to technology and enriching their cultural life.
Another anticipated major headline in the new civil legislation is represented by the so-called “personality rights,” which call for a dedicated section in the civil code. Personality rights (or birth rights) are a series of freedoms and liberties that each individual enjoys upon birth, such as the right to life, to physical and mental integrity, freedom of speech, the right to privacy, health, reputation, etc. These rights and freedoms are inherent to the human person and the law merely encodes them. Their free exercise, however, needs to be guaranteed and protected by the state through legal provisions and specialized bodies designed to prevent and punish any acts of violation.
The personality rights are currently guaranteed under Chapter II of the Chinese Constitution. But such provisions cannot be cited in court, due to the absence of a Constitutional Court that would ensure the uniform interpretation, protection, and enforcement of such provisions. Should anyone invoke the claim that a law or administrative act is unconstitutional, there is no specialized organ to could rule upon such matters. A possible explanation as to why China didn’t also establish a specialized Court to rule on constitutional matters at the moment when the Constitution was adopted is that China rejects the separation of powers doctrine, out of concern that it would undermine the authority of the Communist Party. Hence, without an autonomous judicial body to ensure that the fundamental law prevails within the state, the Constitution is left at the moment with only a symbolic role in China.
The importance of guaranteeing the free exercise of personality rights is unquestionable and the new Civil Code should avoid, by all means, rendering the protection regime opaque and rigid. The legislators play an essential role in this; therefore, they should be cautious when defining and enumerating these rights, and make sure they establish an efficient enforcement mechanism. The outlook is not optimistic, though. China is known for allowing restrictions when it feels that too much liberty could weaken state authority or challenge the leadership of the Communist Party.
All these are key areas in which Chinese legislation needs to be further strengthened. But the legal system cannot truly improve unless it ensures that citizens’ personal rights, property rights, basic political rights, and other inherent rights are guaranteed and protected by the state as inviolable. Although the enactment of a Civil Code represents a big step forward in the direction of a rule-of-law system, the legislative work in China needs to continue. Likewise, the systems and mechanisms through which the law is enforced need to be bettered, while at the same time facilitating public participation in the process.
Published on The Diplomat's website on March 30, 2017.
Jordan must immediately arrest Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir and hand him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, said Amnesty International today as the Sudanese leader arrived in Amman for the Arab League Summit.
“As a signatory to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC, Jordan is obligated to arrest Omar Al-Bashir and hand him over to the court,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.
“Failure to arrest him would be a grave violation of the treaty and a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The international community must not allow this to happen.”
The Hague-based court has issued two arrest warrants for Al-Bashir on the basis that there are reasonable grounds to believe that along with war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, extermination and rape, he has committed genocide against the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.
Amnesty International wrote a letter to Jordan’s foreign minister in January, officially reminding the Jordanian government of its absolute obligation to arrest Omar Al-Bashir.
Published on AI's website on March 29, 2017.
By PHIL BOLTON
Despite the Rome Declaration that was signed on March 25 by 27 leaders of the European Union to celebrate the EU’s founding 60 years ago, Mark Ellis, executive director of the London-based International Bar Association, fears that the most “civilized experiment of the 20th century” is on the verge of extinction.
Should a founding member follow the Brexit path, such as France or the Netherlands, the EU could come to an “end,” he told Global Atlanta while visiting Atlanta last week. “The chances are significant right now,” he added. And if the EU does fall apart, “the consequences won’t be positive,” he predicted with the legal rights now taken for granted in the West disappearing.
Nor is he any more confident of the U.S. and has directed his association to hire a full-time journalist to track the Trump administration’s actions and launch a social media campaign to counteract that of the White House.
Dr. Ellis was in Atlanta for the plenary meeting of the Atlanta International Arbitration Society, which brought together dozens of the Southeast’s attorneys from leading law firms to hear his address titled “Reflections on Trumpand Europe.” He also met with students at Georgia State’s College of Law.
The greatest threat from a dissolution of the EU, he said, would be the creation of a void in the fabric of the rule of law guaranteed by the EU and provide an opportunity for Russia to fill the vacuum.
In view that the association is composed of 206 national bar associations, major international law firms and 80,000 members from around the world, it’s not surprising that its director has a commitment to the principles of the rule of law.
He has enumerated these as follows: an independent, impartial judiciary, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, a rational and proportionate approach to punishment, a strong and independent legal profession, strict protection of communications between lawyers and their clients and equality before the law.
“The essential premise is that a free state is characterized by the superiority and predictability of law and by separation of powers,” he has written in a published paper.
All this is threatened by “a dramatic growth in fascism and populism,” he said, with Europe’s future of law abiding, democratic states balancing “on a thin edge.”
While Dr. Ellis said that he considers “the center is still holding,” a “fast decline” could be prompted by “something unforeseen — a tipping point that might be caused by a terrorist attack in France or Germany.”
He acknowledged that the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States came as a surprise and reflected his failure to see beyond the intellectual cocoon in which he lived including reading U.K. newspapers such as the London Times, the Guardian and attending lectures at the London School of Economics.
Twenty-seven leaders of the EU signed the Rome Declaration on March 25 proclaiming “our common future…”And he admitted that he had not appreciated “the appeal to the disenfranchised who perceive they have been left behind by a globalized economy,” primarily because of his view that the advances of globalism have been widespread around the world benefiting millions of people.
He also decried the influence of Nigel Farage, the founder of the U.K. Independence Party that led the Brexit movement, who spoke in Atlanta one day previously, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front(FN), who is fighting to achieve a similar political earthquake in France in the upcoming presidential elections as Farage did in the U.K. with Brexit.
Granting that the European Parliament has been responsible for “over regulating” on business and trade practices, he called the claims of both Mr. Farage and Ms. Le Pen exaggerated.
Nevertheless, he called on the more than 200 bar associations in his organization to “discuss these issues and promulgate solutions” before it’s too late. And he indicated that it already may be too late in Hungary and Poland in the EU and in Turkey where tenets of the rule of law, he said, are violated regularly.
“What is happening in Washington is dangerous,” he said. “What needs to be done is to start shifting the paradigm, and that shift has to be done collectively,” he added, calling for a bipartisan defense of the principles which, he said, “are under attack.”
That attack is exacerbated, he added, by Russia, which he blamed for interfering in democratic elections. “Russia is the most illiberal country right now with the exception of the pure dictatorships,” he said.
His association, he also said, has been tracking Russian developments for the past five years and he personally has been well acquainted with Russia’s activities for 10 years before his current job while serving as the first executive director of the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI), a project of the American Bar Association.
Published on Global Atlanta's website on March 28, 2017.
A court in Ivory Coast has acquitted the former first lady Simone Gbagbo of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges linked to her role in a 2011 civil war that killed about 3,000 people, state television announced on Tuesday.
Judge Kouadio Bouatchi said a jury unanimously voted to free Gbagbo. The prosecution had asked for a life sentence, saying she had participated on a committee that organised abuses against supporters of her husband’s opponent after the 2010 election.
More than 3,000 people were killed after the former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to the current president, Alassane Ouattara.
The trial, the west African country’s first for crimes against humanity, was held in an Ivorian court after the government rejected her extradition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
“We are happy. Since the start of the trial we proclaimed her innocence. The prosecution’s case against her was empty,” Gbagbo’s lawyer, Mathurin Dirabou, told Reuters after the verdict was announced.
Tuesday’s acquittal was a surprise for many. Simone Gbagbo did not attend the trial in protest and was not present for the verdict.
“I’m disappointed and sad for the victims today. Only international justice can fight against impunity, it seems. We can no longer trust Ivorian justice,” said Issiaka Diaby, president of the association for victims of the crisis.
Simone Gbagbo had already been tried and convicted in March 2015 of offences against the state and sentenced to 20 years in prison, a jail term that was upheld on appeal this month.
Prosecutors in her war crimes trial alleged she was part of a small group of party officials from Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) that planned violence against supporters of Ouattara to stop him taking power.
Her husband, Laurent, is standing trial before the ICC on similar charges connected to the brief conflict.
Published on The Guardian's website on March 28, 2017.
Over 100 civilians killed in a month, including fishermen, refugees, as Yemen conflict reaches two-year mark
Two years and more than 13,000 civilian casualties later, the conflict in Yemen continues to rage, with an intensification in hostilities over the past three months that has exacerbated the entirely man-made catastrophe, with children starving and refugees and fishermen bombed, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today.
Sunday, 26 March, will mark two years since the escalation of the current conflict in Yemen. Since 26 March 2015, at least 4,773 civilians have been killed and another 8,272 injured by the violence – a total of 13,045 civilian casualties. These figures reflect only those deaths and injuries that the UN Human Rights Office has managed to corroborate and confirm to be civilians. The actual death toll is certainly considerably higher. Another 21 million Yemenis – 82 per cent of the population – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Over the past month alone, 106 civilians have been killed, mostly by air strikes and shelling by Coalition war ships. The worst incident occurred near Al Hudaydah on 16 March, when 32 Somali refugees and one Yemeni civilian were killed, with another 10 Somali refugees reportedly missing, feared dead. Twenty-nine Somali refugees, including six children, were injured, some severely. According to survivors’ accounts, the vessel carrying the refugees across the Red Sea was hit by shelling from a Coalition warship, without any warning, followed by shooting from an Apache helicopter overhead.
The UN Human Rights Office has also documented a number of incidents where fishermen’s boats were hit, as well as airstrikes that struck four trucks carrying food items, and an airstrike at a marketplace, among others. On 10 March, at least 18 civilians, including three children, were killed in an airstrike that hit a Qat market in Al Khawkhah district in Al Hudaydah Governorate. On 15 March, an Apache helicopter reportedly shot at a fishing boat off the coast of Al Hudaydah, killing two fishermen and injuring five others, reportedly without warning. Another boat in the same region was hit by a missile, reportedly fired from a Coalition warship, resulting in the deaths of five fishermen. The same day, five other fishermen were killed in a missile attack near the coast of Ad Durayhimi district of Al Hudaydah Governorate. On 16 March, another 10 fishermen were reported missing. Their boat was found burned on the northern side of Al Hudaydah city. Search efforts continue for the fishermen.
The Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis and former President Saleh have continued to encircle densely populated areas in Taizz Governorate, preventing civilians from leaving and restricting humanitarian access to Taizz city. The UN Human Rights Office has heard accounts from people inside Taizz city of desperate shortages of food, water and milk for infants. Children, pregnant women and elderly people, especially those with chronic illnesses, are at particular risk and directly endangered by the lack of medicines. On 6 March, members of the Popular Committees reportedly shelled the Al Shanini market in al-Modhafer District in Taizz, causing one civilian death and injuring three civilians. There did not appear to be any potential military targets in the area at the time of the attack and eyewitnesses indicated that the attack occurred without warning.
“The violent deaths of refugees fleeing yet another war, of fishermen, of families in marketplaces – this is what the conflict in Yemen looks like two years after it began…utterly terrible, with little apparent regard for civilian lives and infrastructure,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “The fighting in Al Hudaydah has left thousands of civilians trapped – as was the case in Al Mokha in February – and has already compromised badly-needed deliveries of humanitarian assistance. Two years of wanton violence and bloodshed, thousands of deaths and millions of people desperate for their basic rights to food, water, health and security – enough is enough. I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”
The UN Human Rights Office continues to provide support to the Yemeni National Commission, as mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. High Commissioner Zeid however stressed the need for an international, independent investigative body to look into the hundreds of reports of serious violations in Yemen. “The international community cannot allow those responsible for thousands of civilian deaths to continue to enjoy full impunity.”
This press release was published on the OHCHR's website on March 24, 2017.
By RICK GLADSTONE
The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Friday that authorizes the use of criminal justice experts to devise legal strategies for eventual prosecutions of violations by North Korea.
Approved on the final day of the 47-member council’s four-week session in Geneva, the resolution also authorizes the creation of a central repository for evidence to be used in such prosecutions.
The resolution amounted to what human rights experts called a significant warning to North Korea, one of the world’s most repressive and isolated countries. They called it a step toward a judicial reckoning for North Korean officials and institutions implicated in human rights crimes.
A 2014 report by a United Nations panel of inquiry on North Korea described “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” that included a vast network of prison camps and punishments like starvation that it said constituted crimes against humanity.
A letter by the panel sent to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, warned him that he could face prosecution some day and said that the panel was recommending a referral of its findings to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
It remains unclear what court would undertake such a prosecution, should it ever proceed. While the International Criminal Court was partly created for this reason, approval for a case against North Korea would be necessary from the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members. They include China, which has long signaled its opposition to such a move.
Other possibilities for prosecution have been raised, however, including the formation of an ad hoc tribunal like those that investigated crimes in the Balkans and Rwanda.
Under the resolution adopted on Friday, the Seoul office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights will be expanded to include criminal justice experts who can develop plans for eventual prosecution. The resolution also would establish a structure to collect evidence “with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process.”
John Fisher, the Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the resolution in a statement, saying the “Human Rights Council spoke with one voice today by condemning North Korea’s horrific rights abuses and supporting efforts to bring leading officials in Pyongyang to account,” referring to North Korea’s capital.
He said support for the resolution “shows the resounding commitment of the international community to ensure that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s rights-abusing authorities don’t escape justice.”
North Korea has denounced all accusations of rights abuses as fabrications concocted by the country’s enemies, led by the United States, and says North Korean people are happy and free.
The North Korean delegation to the Human Rights Council boycotted the debate on the country and said in a statement quoted by Reuters that it “categorically and totally rejects” the resolution.
This article was published on the New York Times' website on March 24, 2017.
The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites may amount to war crimes, a new resolution adopted by the UN Security Council says. Officials have warned of "cultural cleansing" in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution strengthening the protection of global cultural heritage sites threatened by conflicts, saying perpetrators could be prosecuted for war crimes.
The resolution urges nations to increase efforts to preserve historic monuments and sites in conflict zones. The onset of the 21st century witnessed attacks against global heritage sites increase significantly, including the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan and Timbuktu's ancient shrines in Mali.
Previous efforts by the Council to safeguard cultural heritage focused on the illicit trafficking of looted cultural relics to fund terrorist activities in Iraq and Syria, where the "Islamic State" militant group destroyed UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Roman ruins at Palmyra.
However, Friday's resolution called for further international cooperation in investigations and prosecutions of individuals and groups committing attacks against cultural heritage sites, monuments and relics.
The resolution affirmed that "directing unlawful attacks against sites and buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, or historic monuments may constitute, under certain circumstances and pursuant to international law, a war crime and that perpetrators of such attacks must be brought to justice."
UNESCO Director Irina Bokova described the resolution as "historic," saying it reflected the "recognition of the importance of cultural heritage for peace and security."
"Heritage is identity - it is belonging," Bokova told the Council after the resolution passed. "The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime - it has become a tactic of war, in a global strategy of cultural cleansing."
The resolution comes after the International Criminal Court in The Hague last year sentenced a Malian jihadist for the destruction of shrines and a mosque in the fabled city of Timbuktu.
On Monday, several countries, including France and Saudi Arabia, pledged $75.5 million for the protection of cultural heritage sites threatened by conflicts and terrorist attacks.
At the donor conference held in the Louvre museum in Paris, French President Francois Hollande said the destruction of cultural heritage added to the persecution of populations in conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
"[It's] the same objective: to break what was there before in order to kill hope afterwards, to eradicate human and cultural diversity," he said, vowing to raise $100 million for the protection of heritage sites by 2019.
This article was published on DW's website on March 25, 2017.
The International Criminal Court Friday ordered 297 victims of ex-Congolese warlord Germain Katanga to each be paid "a symbolic" $250 in damages for a brutal 2003 attack on their village, in the tribunal's first such award.
Awarding both individual and collective damages, the court also found that Katanga was liable for one million dollars of the total damages estimated at $3.7 million (3.4 million euros).
Katanga was sentenced by the ICC to 12 years in jail in 2014, after being convicted on five charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the February 2003 ethnic attack on Bogoro village in Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He was accused of supplying weapons to his militia in the attack in which some 200 people were shot and hacked to death with machetes.
"The chamber has assessed the scope of the prejudice to 297 victims as $3,752,620. The chamber sets the amount to be contributed by Mr Katanga towards the reparations as one million dollars," said presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut.
He recognised however that Katanga, currently imprisoned in Kinshasa where he is on trial on other charges arising out of the unrest in the Ituri region, was penniless or "indigent" and had no home or possessions.
The court acknowledged that the "symbolic amount of $250 to each victim of Mr Katanga ... does not make up for the totality of the crime," Perrin de Brichambaut said.
However it "can grant some measure of autonomy to the victims by making it possible for them to engage in some kind of activity... and make relevant decisions pertaining to their current needs."
Friday's order for reparations is a landmark step for the tribunal, set up in 2002 to prosecute the world's worst crimes, and marks the first time that monetary values have been placed on the harm caused by such crimes.
The court asked the Trust Fund for Victims, set up under the tribunal's founding guidelines to support victims, to consider using its resources to pay for the reparations and to come up with a plan for the court by late June.
Legal representatives for the victims had assessed the damage caused by the attack at $16.4 million in a filing to the court last year.
Katanga was watching Friday's order from his prison in Kinshasa, while five victims representing the group followed in the village of Bunia with their lawyers.
This article was published on The New Indian Express on March 24, 2017.