Last Week in International Law

1. Prosecutor v. Karadzic

Proceedings against Radovan Karadzic began on October 28, 2009, despite the accused’s refusal to attend court. The case was supposed to start on October 26 but Karadzic, who is representing himself, asked for at least eight more months to prepare his case. The court gave him 24 hours to change his mind. After he failed to appear on Tuesday, judges ordered the Prosecution to open its case and warned Karadzic to appear in court or risk having counsel assigned to him and being tried in absentia.

For more information, see the Reuters article or our own Lee Rovinescu’s analysis of the situation.

2. R. v. Munyaneza

On October 29, 2009, Justice André Denis of the Quebec Superior Court handed down a life sentence to Désiré Munyaneza, the Rwandan genocidaire who helped organize and perpetrate the mass-murder of Tutsis in the Butare area. On May 22, 2009, Justice Denis found Munyaneza guilty of two counts of genocide, two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. Having concluded that the killings were premeditated, Justice Denis held that Munyaneza would not be eligible for parole for 25 years.

Munyaneza was the first person to be charged under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. The Act incorporates universal jurisdiction, allowing Canada to prosecute any individual present in Canada for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3. United States of America v. Cail

On October 26, 2009, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the Minister of Justice’s decision to extradite Ronald Cail, a Canadian citizen and Albertan resident, to the United States (US) for the distribution of child pornography.

Having allegedly distributed the material via his computer from his Alberta home, Cail argued that the evidence did not establish that the crime at issue occurred within the foreign jurisdiction. He essentially relied on s. 47(e) of the Extradition Act, which provides that the Minister may refuse extradition where “none of the conduct on which the extradition partner bases its request occurred in the territory over which the extradition partner has jurisdiction”. The Court acknowledged this basis for refusal but added that it was discretionary and not absolute. It supported the Minister’s privileging of US interests in prosecuting the crime over those of Canada. In so doing, the Court implicitly privileged the use of an interests-analysis approach when making extradition decisions over the use of traditional localization rules. The court notably admitted the difficulty in determining the location of such a crime: “when someone sends child pornography over the internet the crime is partly committed at both ends of the transmission”.

Cail also argued that “it would be unjust or oppressive for [him] to be tried in the US for an offence allegedly committed in Alberta, in the absence of assurances regarding funding for legal assistance”. Dismissing this argument, the Court posited that “the Minister is entitled to assume that the person sought by the foreign jurisdiction will receive a fair trial there”. Drawing on Canada v. Schmidt ([1987] 1 S.C.R. 500), the Court concluded that the Minister of Justice only has to seek assurances when extradition would “shock the conscience” of Canadians.

For more information, see the full decision.

4. ‘Honduras’ v. Brazil?

On October 28, 2009, the Interim Government of Honduras filed an application to institute proceedings against Brazil at the International Court of Justice. According to the ICJ press release, the Interim Government seeks a declaration that Brazil has breached the principle of non-intervention by allowing ousted President, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, and his supporters to take refuge in the Brazilian embassy and use the premises as “a platform for political propaganda and thereby [threaten] the peace and internal public order of Honduras”.

James Harrison of International Law Observer argues that it is “a particularly controversial [move] given the international condemnation of the coup d’etat”. Brazil has already indicated that it does not consider the interim government to be competent to bring the case. As Dapo Akande writes at EJIL talk, the ICJ may get to pronounce on whether the new “government” is actually the government. For a preliminary analysis of this issue, see Akande’s full post.

Nonetheless, the future of the proceedings is now in question: on October 30, 2009, the interim leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, signed an agreement with Zelaya to end the crisis and create a power-sharing government.

5. French Embezzlement Probe Against African Leaders Comes to a Halt

Anti-corruption group Transparency International had accused Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the DRC, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, and their relatives, of acquiring luxury homes and cars in France with African public funds. On October 29, 2009, the Court of Appeal of Paris ruled that the complaint was inadmissible because the NGO had no interest in the matter. The court justified this decision with a finding that the NGO had not suffered a direct personal injury from the alleged corruption. Transparency International has already announced that it will appeal this decision to France’s highest court.

For more information, see the le Monde or Reuters articles.

6. Do Predator Drone Attacks Violate International law?

On October 27, 2009, Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, warned that the United State’s use of unmanned warplanes to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal. Reiterating concerns that he raised with the US in June, Alston criticized the US administration for failing to reveal

the legal basis on which the United States is operating the drones, [the] precautions it is taking to ensure these weapons are used strictly for purposes consistent with international humanitarian law, and [the] mechanisms … in place to review the use of the weapons (Reuters).

Opinio Juris’ Kenneth Anderson, who has written extensively about targeted killings, believes that the US’ targeted killing program is perfectly legal but regards the unwillingness of the Obama administration to clearly state the legal basis on which this program operates to be “a serious legal policy mistake”.

7. US and EU Reach Agreement on New International Criminal Law Treaties

On October 28, 2009, the US and the EU announced an agreement for two treaties on mutual legal assistance and extradition. The new treaties seek to improve EU-US cooperation in combating terrorism, cyber crime, international fraud, human and drug trafficking, and other serious international crimes. According to the Courthouse News Service, the new treaties “include first-time rules that would allow EU countries to refuse to extradite criminals that might be subject to the death penalty, but left dangling the issues of Guantanamo Bay prisoners”.

For more information, see the US Department of Justice press release and the Jurist article.

Other notable developments and opinions:

Andrew Cleland Andrew Cleland is a bilingual graduate of the B.C.L.-LL.B. program at McGill Faculty of Law. He has worked at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN in Geneva.

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One Response to “Last Week in International Law”

  1. This is a wonderful blog and provides an intellectual venue for debates, discourse and presentations on a broad spectrum of legal and related issues that affect our lives and our thoughtful experiences. I hope that a diversity of scholarly themes will fill the pages along with practical ones and perspectives of applying theoretical concepts into practice. In this area is the theme of Islamic Law (Shari’ah) that can be studied along with the legal doctrines. The interface of economics, finance, society and science with the meaning and practice of social justice needs to be studied. Existing methodologies in the sciences, including social sciences and finance and accounting, are oblivious of this integrative study.

    Professor Masudul Alam Choudhury
    Sultan Qaboos University
    Muscat, Sultanate of Oman


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