In some recent blog posts, Italian star philosopher Giorgio Agamben frames the governmental response to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy and elsewhere as ‘frenetic, irrational and entirely unfounded’. According to Agamben, Covid-19 is not too different from the normal flus that affect us every year. The governmental reaction to the outbreak would be just another example of the tendency to use the state of exception as a normal paradigm for government. With terrorism exhausted as a legitimation for exceptional measures, the ‘invention of an epidemic’ would serve as an ideal pretext for scaling up such measures almost beyond limitation. Understandably, Agamben’s assessment of the current crisis has met with overwhelming criticism. Some commentators have even called to ‘defend society from Giorgio Agamben’, dismissing his statements as the dangerous ‘ramblings of a 77-year old man’ who should be de-platformed as soon as possible. Evidently, Agamben has been proven wrong in his appraisal of the spread of the virus as an invented epidemic, nothing to be actually worried about from a public health perspective. That does not mean, however, that his critique should not be taken very seriously.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) turns 18 years old in 2020. As such, we can look back on the Court’s ‘childhood’ and forward to its first year as an adult. Like all childhoods, there have been ups and downs, successes and lessons learned. There have been four final convictions against individuals for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and reparations ordered for hundreds of victims in three cases. There have also been acquittals (most recently of Mr Gbagbo and Mr Ble Goude regarding crimes during post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire) and cases terminated (such as those in the Kenya situation). The Court has drawn criticism for its lengthy and expensive trials, limited success rate, and faced allegations of politicisation and double-standards. While States continue to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute (like Kiribati most recently), two States have withdrawn – Burundi and the Philippines. While criticism has, of course, come from those outside the Rome Statute system, in 2019 many of the Court’s greatest supporters raised their own critiques. Given this backdrop, five issues to follow in 2020 include: 1) an independent expert review of the ICC; 2) the election of a new Prosecutor and Judges; 3) investigations in Myanmar/Bangladesh and (potentially) Afghanistan; 4) conclusion of the cases against Mr Ongwen and Mr Ntaganda; and 5) the unexpected.
‘The lack of implementation of the D.H. judgment deeply concerns the three submitting organizations…’. This sentence is taken from a Rule 9 Communication submitted by three NGOs to the Committee of Ministers, the body that supervises the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (hereafter: ECtHR or Court). It is illustrative of the purpose of Rule 9 Communications: the submitting actor(s), which may be NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), can provide the Committee of Ministers with their perspective on how a State is progressing with the execution of a judgment of the ECtHR. As such, this Rule 9 provides a crucial opportunity for NGOs and NHRIs to get involved in the execution process of the Court’s judgments. It is therefore striking that over the years, across the board, little attention has been devoted to these Rule 9 Communications. This appears, however, to be changing as the possibilities offered by this Rule 9 are getting more traction (see for instance the new page of the Execution Department). Rightly so, as Rule 9 Communications may play a valuable role in helping ensure the execution of judgments of the ECtHR. In this blog post, I offer a first exploration of Rule 9 Communications, thereby showcasing their potential and advocating their use by NGOs and NHRIs.
Laura M. Henderson
You are sitting at your desk – as an academic, lawyer, policy maker or judge. You are pondering a legal issue and need to figure out what the law on this matter means for the question at hand. It can be as simple as having to decide whether a tricycle falls under the local prohibition of vehicles in the park or as complex as a constitutional challenge to an intricate, transnational economic rescue plan. How should you decide how to interpret the applicable law? This contribution argues that a postmodern ethics of just judgment points the way forward. Such a mode of just judgment calls on our interpreter to constantly interrogate the boundaries of the law and to make decisions that preserve space for future renegotiations of those boundaries.
Legal philosophers are often criticised for being out of touch with legal practice. At best, their theories provide a highly abstract but dated understanding of what law is. In a recent prize-winning book entitled A Realistic Theory of Law legal philosopher Brian Tamanaha argues that this often heard critique is true. Many legal philosophers fail to adequately explain how law and legal institutions function: they rarely succeed in addressing the current social context in which law is made and applied. Tamanaha maintains that this lack of attention to the complexity of legal practice is endemic to the field of jurisprudence today, but considers a particular jurisprudential strand of thought to be responsible for this neglect. As he explains: “Jurisprudence in recent decades has become increasingly abstract, specialized, and narrow. Analytical jurisprudence, dominated by legal positivists, has traveled the furthest in this direction.” If legal philosophers, and in particular those who are part of the analytical tradition of jurisprudence, fail to take law in context seriously, what aspects of legal practice should they be concerned with? In this blog, I critically assess Tamanaha’s realistic approach to law and contrast it with the approach I take in my recently defended doctoral thesis. Although I agree with Tamanaha’s critique of contemporary jurisprudence, I argue that legal theories that are out of touch with legal practice should be amended and further developed.
From Peru to Canada to East Timor, following periods of serious conflict or gross human rights violations, societies often look to address the past in order to bring about greater accountability (trials), reparation (victim compensation), and truth (truth commissions). To date, more than 40 truth commissions have been established around the world, with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission being the most well-known example. Generally speaking, truth commissions are officially sanctioned, temporary, non-judicial investigative bodies designed to produce a final report describing the patterns of violence and abuse, its causes and consequences (Hayner 2011 at 11-12). They do this by taking, collecting, and analysing statements from victims, witnesses, and perpetrators, holding public hearings, carrying out exhumations, and researching and investigating allegations of wrongdoing. The claimed benefits are wide-ranging: disclosure of the truth, creation of an historical record, promotion of national healing, individual catharsis, and acknowledgement and redress for victims. While there is debate about whether truth-seeking processes can deliver these benefits, they may be able to pay greater attention to social justice concerns than criminal trials or reparation processes can. In this blog, based on a recently published chapter in the book The Global Impact and Legacy of Truth Commissions, I explain why truth commissions, while contributing modestly to achieving social justice through their structures, processes and outcomes, cannot in themselves achieve these goals.
Reparations are an old concept in both domestic and international law. Victims have long been repaired in some way for the harms they suffered themselves, to their families or property. Following World War II, victims received some type of reparation, usually paid by the State, for their profound losses, and just last year the Dutch Railways NS announced that it would pay reparations to victims for its role in transportation for the Nazi regime. In the USA there have been enduring discussions about the yet unpaid reparations for slavery. Along with these developments, there have been changes to the approaches taken to reparations. Firstly, reparations have been recognised as part of a victim’s right under international law. Secondly, critiques have arisen regarding the traditional approach of reparations that seeks to restore victims to the position they were in before the harm occurred. Academics and practitioners have criticised this approach as failing to address socio-economic disparities and unequal power structures, which may have led to the victimisation in the first place. The recent transformative justice movement, and transformative reparations in particular, grew out of the belief that it is ineffectual to place marginalised victims back into positions of marginalisation following serious harm. This blog, based on a recently published article, critically examines transformative reparations within the human rights and criminal context, and explores whether the concept of transformation is changing the game.
In October 2019, The Hague Court of Appeal rendered an important judgment in the Urgenda case. Urgenda is a Dutch foundation fighting for a sustainable society, which started a legal case to force the Dutch government to adopt more stringent climate policies. In that case, The Hague Court of Appeal found a violation of Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and ordered the Dutch State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by the end of 2020. Inspired by this judgment, the NGO Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), together with several related organisations, has taken yet another step in climate change litigation in the Netherlands by summoning Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world. Although Milieudefensie is petitioning a company instead of a State, the claim is the same as the one against the State in the Urgenda case. Milieudefensie requests the court to order Shell to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. This claim is founded on the argument that Shell is guilty of hazardous negligence and violates human rights because of its (lack of a) climate policy. This argument shows that Milieudefensie has not only taken a further step in climate change litigation, but also contributes to the trend of increasingly holding private actors accountable for human rights violations. In this blog, I discuss Milieudefensie’s claim in more detail, and analyse whether, and how, human rights arguments can be used to impose greenhouse gas reduction orders on private actors. Continue reading
Last week, I listened to a podcast in NPR’s Rough Translation series that wason collecting the dead in Mosul, Iraq in 2018. The podcast is about Sroor Al-Hosayni, a 23 year old Iraqi woman who heads a team of volunteers who remove dead bodies from the rubble of Mosul, eight months after the city was liberated from its occupation by the Islamic State (IS/ISIS). Fascinated, I did more digging on the internet and found that Sroor’s work as a ‘body-collector’ has also been covered by the BBC and VICE news. In this post, I use these sources to recount the main parts of Sroor’s role as a ‘body collector’ and show how her story brings to light a set of rules in international humanitarian law (IHL) on ‘the collection of the dead’ that rarely get any attention in academic writings. Sroor’s story vividly illustrates the necessity of the rule that parties to an armed conflict should search for and collect the bodies of the dead ‘without distinction’ i.e. without taking account of their affiliation. The fact that Sroor gets into trouble with the authorities for collecting IS bodies evidences wider trends of counter-terrorism legislation impeding humanitarian action. Sroor’s story also illustrates the danger that the unsupervised removal of bodies may not only pose a health and security risk, but may also interfere with the gathering of forensic evidence needed in war crimes prosecution
The exercise of government power is increasingly automated. Modern technology makes it possible to reduce the direct human involvement in a great variety of government domains. Human involvement in domains like tax and social security is already limited to the most complex cases. One of the questions this development raises is whether artificial intelligence (AI) will also impact other branches of government, besides the executive. Last month the Estonian ministry of Justice ordered the design of a ‘Robot Judge’ to help the judiciary fight backlogs in the Estonian small claims procedure. And as futuristic as a ‘Robot Judge’ may sound, the Estonian efforts do not stand alone. Also in the Netherlands, the use of AI by the judiciary is on the political agenda. This makes sense since the use of AI by the judiciary holds many promises. Procedures are expected to be cheaper, faster, and less biased. However there are, as with the automation of executive government decisions, also concerns. In this blog we give a short introduction to the development of the Robot Judge.