By Luiza IlieTwelve Western nations warned Romanian lawmakers on Thursday against making changes to criminal legislation they say would weaken the rule of law and Bucharest’s ability to fight crime and entrenched corruption.
The ruling Social Democrats (PSD) will start to make changes to the criminal code in a parliamentary committee on Thursday. These include decriminalizing several corruption offences such as abuse of office, a crime that earned PSD leader Liviu Dragnea a prison sentence that he plans to appeal against.
The embassies of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States put out a joint statement saying they were following the changes closely.
“We, Romania’s international partners and allies, call on all parties involved in amending Romania’s criminal and criminal procedure codes to avoid changes that would weaken the rule of law or Romania’s ability to fight crime or corruption,” it said.
“We... remain concerned that several changes are likely to impede international law enforcement cooperation and negatively impact the fight against violent crime, transnational organized crime, financial crimes, and drug and human trafficking.”
The PSD has already pushed through parliament a judicial overhaul that places magistrates under political control, as well as changes to criminal procedures that would close thousands of cases, from assault or reckless driving to graft, as well as endanger trans-border investigations.
The judicial overhaul and changes to criminal procedures are both facing legal challenges at the Constitutional Court.
REGIONAL TRENDRomania’s tussle with its NATO and European Union partners comes after Hungary and Poland also clashed with Brussels over their judicial reforms. The three nations’ reform efforts have broadened a rift between the EU’s eastern and western wings.
Romania is seen as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels, which keeps its justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for tackling corruption.
The Social Democrats’ intervention in the justice system since they took power at the start of last year has prompted the biggest protests since communism fell in 1989 and has further exposed the fragility of democracy in eastern Europe.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court sentenced PSD leader Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house of parliament, to 3.6 years in jail for inciting other public officials to commit abuse of office. The ruling is not final and can be appealed.
Dragnea has a previous conviction in a vote-rigging case and is under investigation in a separate case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded. He denies all wrongdoing.
Anti-corruption prosecutors have secured convictions for a slew of lawmakers, mayors and ministers across parties.
Published on Reuters on June 28, 2018
Côte d’Ivoire’s President, Alassane Ouattara, should do more to fulfill his promise of justice for victims of the country’s 2010-11 post-election crisis, 10 national and international human rights groups said today in a joint letter to the president.
Ouattara, who was sworn for his first term seven years ago, has said repeatedly that, “there will be no impunity in Côte d’Ivoire.” But no one has been held accountable in Ivorian courts for the war crimes and likely crimes against humanity committed during the crisis.
“Seven years after the serious crimes committed in Côte d’Ivoire, victims are still waiting for justice,” said Drissa Traoré, Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “Midway through his second term, President Ouattara should keep his promises to deliver impartial justice, so essential to sustainable peace in Côte d’Ivoire.”
By Phelim Kine
The Indonesian government debased the rule of law today by awarding Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa its highest honor, the Medal of Honor.
Indonesia’s National Police Chief, Gen. Tito Karnavian, praised dela Rosa for his “rock star-like inspiration to the Indonesian national police and the Indonesian people on how to fight the war on drugs.” That’s a perverse assessment of a Philippine government official implicated in possible crimes against humanity for inciting and instigating killings linked to the government’s “war on drugs.”
Since June 2016, that campaign has killed more than 12,000 people, according to estimates from reliable nongovernmental organizations and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Most victims, including a number of children, have been urban slum dwellers. Human Rights Watch and investigative journalists have documented that many of those deaths amount to extrajudicial killings by Philippine police personnel and their agents. Dela Rosa has obstructed calls for accountability for those deaths by dismissing requests for independent investigations as “legal harassment” and declaring that such demands “dampens the morale” of police officers.
The handful of prosecutions of police personnel implicated in the killings have not resulted in convictions. In July, dela Rosa reinforced the anti-drug campaign’s culture of impunity by reinstating 18 police officers facing homicide charges in the 2016 killing of Rolando Espinosa Sr., mayor of Albuera, on Leyte island. This, despite compelling evidence that the officers committed “premeditated murder” when they shot Espinosa to death in a Manila jail cell on November 5, 2016.
Indonesia’s police chief Karnavian has expressed fondness for violent extrajudicial approaches to illegal drug use previously. In July he publicly touted the shooting of drug dealers as the ideal approach. That’s possible instigation of deadly violence given that a University of Melbourne analysis indicates that Indonesian police killed an estimated 49 suspected drug dealers in the first six months of 2017. That is a sharp rise from 14 such killings in all of 2016 and 10 in 2015. Ominously, more than one third of the total police killings in Indonesia from January to June 2017 occurred after the suspects had surrendered to police.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo should join calls for a United Nations-led international investigation into the Philippine “drug war” rather than honoring one of its chief architects.
Published on HRW on February 14, 2018
The declaration of the State of Emergency in the Maldives by President Abdulla Yameen and the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees have swept away the checks and balances and separation of powers necessary in any functioning democracy, potentially leading to a greater number of violations of the rights of people in the Maldives, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Wednesday.
“The suspension of several functions of the judiciary and Parliament, and the restrictions on a series of constitutional rights, create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the president,” said Zeid.
The State of Emergency was declared on 5 February in response to a decision by the Supreme Court to order the release and retrial of nine political leaders, and to reinstate 12 suspended opposition Members of Parliament.
The key constitutional provisions which have been suspended by the State of Emergency decrees for 15 days include Parliament’s authority to remove the President and the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to determine disputes concerning removal of the President. In addition, the entire Criminal Procedure Code has been suspended.
“President Yameen has, to put it bluntly, usurped the authority of the State’s rule-of-law institutions and its ability to work independently from the executive,” the High Commissioner said. “The Maldives have seen in recent years attacks on political opponents, on journalists, on civil society and human right defenders, and what is happening now is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy.”
The State of Emergency also suspends fundamental protections against arbitrary detention. People will in effect not be informed of the reasons why they are arrested or detained, will not benefit from the right to be brought promptly before a judge to determine the validity of the detention. Nor will they have the right to appeal a conviction and sentence in a criminal or civil matter.
In addition, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was arrested on charges, including attempting the overthrow of the Government, and two Supreme Court judges, including the Chief Justice, have also been detained.
“I am seriously concerned that the measures taken appear to go beyond those permissible during a state of emergency, restricting the basic tenets of democracy and undermining respect for fundamental rights in the country,” Zeid said.
“The principles of legality and the rule of law require that fundamental requirements of fair trial must be respected during a state of emergency. The presumption of innocence must be respected, and judicial remedies, such as the writ of habeas corpus, must be effectively available at all times,” Zeid said.
Following the arrest of two Supreme Court judges, the remaining three judges -- responding to concerns communicated by the President -- on 6 February revised the Court’s ruling, and overturned its previous unanimous ruling ordering the release and retrial of the nine political leaders.
One of the arrested judges, Ali Hameed, is reported to have been admitted to a government hospital in the capital Malé, and three members of his family including his wife are believed to have been arrested. The former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is apparently being transferred to an unidentified location, and a number of other leading figures in the Maldives have been detained over the past few days. None of the detainees have been brought before a court, although in most cases – including those of Hameed and Gayoom -- their arrests took place before the President suspended Article 48 of the Constitution which lays down rights related to arrests and detention.
“I call on the Maldives Government to lift the State of Emergency immediately, to respect the institutions and their competencies as provided for in the Constitution, and to respect the fundamental rights of all people and the rule of law, in line with the Maldives’ obligations under international human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Zeid said.
Published on OHCHR on February 7, 2018
The 2017-2018 WJP Rule of Law Index® measures rule of law adherence in 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide based on more than 110,000 household and 3,000 expert surveys. Featuring primary data, the WJP Rule of Law Index measures countries’ rule of law performance across eight factors: Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.
Since the publication of the last WJP Rule of Law Index in October 2016, a majority of countries worldwide saw their scores decline in the areas of human rights, checks on government powers, and civil and criminal justice. The greatest decline was seen in Factor 4, Fundamental Rights (71 countries dropped out of 113), which measures absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labor rights. The second greatest decline was seen in Factor 1, Constraints on Government Powers (64 countries dropped out of 113), which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law.
In addition, more countries’ overall rule of law score declined (34%) than improved (29%) as compared to their 2016 Index scores—a troubling trend. Thirty-seven percent of countries’ overall rule of law score remained the same.
The biggest mover in this year’s WJP Rule of Law Index (calculated by comparing countries against the 2016 rankings) was the Philippines, which fell 18 positions, now ranking 88th out of 113 countries overall and 13th out of 15 countries in the East Asia and Pacific region. The Philippines saw the most significant drops in Constraints on Government Powers, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, and Criminal Justice. In contrast, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, and Sri Lanka showed the biggest improvements in overall rank, each of whom improved by nine positions over their 2016 overall rule of law ranking.
The top three overall performers in the 2017-2018 WJP Rule of Law Index were Denmark (1), Norway (2), and Finland (3); the bottom three were Afghanistan (111), Cambodia (112), and Venezuela (113). The top three and bottom three performing countries have not changed since the 2016 Index.
Download the full report here.
Published on WJP on January 31, 2018
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.