Several days ago, the New York Times ran an op-ed written by former legal advisor to the Secretary of State John B. Bellinger III. In it, Bellinger called for swift action in ratifying international treaties. If you didn’t catch it, I highly recommend giving the essay a read.
I came across a blog post by Matthew Waxman, a Columbia Law professor, regarding the current Iranian nuclear issue. Waxman has written an essay featured on CNN.com entitled, “What the Cuban missile crisis teaches us about Iran.” It is definitely worth a look… Any thoughts?
I am in the process of upgrading my blog and debuting a new website. Ongoing software issues have made maintaining and upgrading the blog difficult; however, after the transition, everything should work much easier.
In the meantime…
The Sunday New York Times featured an article about US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assurance that US imposed trade sanctions against Russia will soon be repealed.
The US has had sanctions in place for decades, although they are not enforced. Despite their non-enforcement, the sanctions violate World Trade Organization rules, which could allow Russia to enact harsh anti US trade policies.
The US Administration supports their repeal; however, Congress seems poised to condition the repeal on the passage of a bill, which, according to the New York Times, “would punish Russian officials accused of abusing human rights, denying them visas and freezing their assets.”
The Administration favors lifting sanctions without the human rights condition; however, the issue has gained political traction as former Governor and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has publicly supported the human rights legislation as a precondition to lifting sanctions.
Public international law often requires balancing factors, including pitting human rights and business/trade. Should trade regulations with foreign nations be conditional on their human rights record, and if so, how extensive should the two be intertwined?
As you may be aware, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid deportation/trial/etc. In the Christian Science Monitor, Kantathi Suphamongkhon makes a case for how Assange could be arrested without breaking international law. “How to arrest Julian Assange without violating international law” is an interesting read.
In other news, Russia warns the United States against “violating” international law in the Syria conflict. While this is not solely a human rights issue and the United States does not have a stellar human rights record, it is always ironic to to be lectured by Russia, China, Syria, and the like. Free Pussy Riot, anyone?
Months after Hosni Mubarak was removed from power, Egypt’s transitional government continues to fight western influence. You may have seen news reports chronicling 43 western citizens (including 13 Americans) fleeing Egypt to avoid criminal prosecution. Most of the accused are members of pro-democracy Non Governmental Organizations that the Egyptian government claims are using foreign capital to cite unrest amongst Egyptians.
The dispute balances political interests including Egypt’s receipt of foreign aide and the nation’s foreign policy towards Israel; however, human rights advocates and western leaders fear that Egypt’s transitional government may be no more committed to democracy than the regime it replaced.
In Monday’s Washington Post, Kareem Elbayar, an attorney for the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, pointed out that “[u]nder Egyptian law, individuals must obtain permission from the government to associate or they risk imprisonment. The application process… can take months, if not years…” Elbayar notes that this requirement violates principles of International Law.
I have long been skeptical that regime change throughout the Middle East would produce long-lasting human rights advances. There has been a long history of western-supported regime change that results in tyrannical regimes. As I watch transformations across Egypt, Lybia, and now Syria, I can only hope that continuing international pressure can help ensure progress in human rights.
I do not wish to harp on the issue of banning international law in state courts, but alas, I will…
Many US states are concerned about Islamic Sharia law overtaking their judicial systems, so many states – beginning with Oklahoma – have decided to take action banning Sharia law, thus often prohibiting state court judges from considering principles of international law. (The vast majority of issues before state courts would never involve international law.)
For decades, the United States was considered a leader in international law and human rights, and the American public largely supported their government’s efforts in developing and abiding by international law.
While America’s commitment to international law and human rights has never been beyond reproach, many Americans’ view of international law has recently soured. According to the Centre for Research on Globalization:
“Americans are increasingly embracing policies that undermine the international rule of law, with self-identified liberals, in particular, seemingly reversing their positions on matters such as the Guantanamo prison camp, extrajudicial assassinations and arbitrary detention.” (link)
This shift in perspective is likely caused, at least in part, by the rise of international terrorism and the Bush and Obama administrations’ practices of long-term detention, use of military tribunals, and targeted assassinations.
Americans’ decreasing support appears to be motivated by fear. American resistance to international principles stem from a belief that such laws weaken the country’s defense and leave it vulnerable. Much of this fear is related to many Americans’ negative view of Middle Eastern culture and their fear of Islamic-based Sharia law. In many respects, Sharia law is oppressive, violent, and a barrier to free society.
While this fear is not wholly unreasonable, it is crucial that America does not retreat too far. Americans must remember the benefits of international law.
International principles create a framework for nations to negotiate and adjudicate disputes, create economic opportunities, and hold oppressive and abusive political and military leaders accountable. Unfortunately, this framework becomes more tenuous when dealing with international groups acting independent of a nation state; however, even when one nation or group violates or threatens international standards, America must hold itself and it’s peers to the standards of international law.
Of course, nothing is ever this black and white, especially in the international arena, but America has a legal and moral obligation to support well-founded rules of international law.
“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or treaty of the United States.”
This single sentence, 28 USC § 1350 and more commonly known as the Alien Tort Act, provides US District Courts to hear cases brought by non-US citizens on international tort issues. The Act has been used to bring cases against United States corporations such as Coca-Cola, Chevron, and in 2007, Yahoo!
Today a Federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a group of fifteen Indonesian villagers to continue a case against Exxon Mobil. The plaintiffs claim that Exxon’s security forces tortured and murdered them and their families between 1999 and 2001. More factual information can be found in Jonathan Stempel’s news report for Reuters.
While the appellate panel voted two to one to allow the case to move forward, there was disagreement over the interpretation of the Alien Tort Act. The majority viewed the Act as allowing jurisdiction for claims that occurred on international soil while the minority held the view that the tort in issue must occur in the United States. It sounds like an issue that could be ripe for the US Supreme Court.