Aug 272012

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?

Mar 022012


  • I blogged yesterday about the US Supreme Court hearing a case regarding foreign plaintiffs suing under the Alien Tort Act. published an interesting article that discusses the exchange and the judge’s perceived hostility towards the plaintiffs.
  • Chevron is pleased that an international arbitration tribunal has ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear Chevron’s claim against Ecuador.  The tribunal took its lead from treaty law.  This was not unexpected, and the saga continues…
  • Human Rights abuses in Syria continue to dominate world news, and today the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to condemn the Syrian regime’s continual abuses against it’s citizens.  The vote was 37 to 3.  Among the three nations voting no, China and Russia have continually blocked the UN from taking decisive action in this matter.  For now, the world will continue to watch the images from Syria in horror.
Jul 062011

Following a not so brief hiatus from blogging, forced in part by technical difficulties, I return today with a story that has generated several headlines over the past several weeks.

While the United States has largely focused on trials of Casey Anthony and Roger Clemens, one significant international legal drama has received far less attention.

Tomorrow, Thursday, July 7, 2011, Texas is scheduled to execute Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr.  for the rape and murder of a sixteen year old Texas girl.

Human rights activists, international law experts, the United Nations, the United States Department of State, and others are petitioning for a stay of Garcia’s execution because Texas did not provide Garcia with protections guaranteed under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Garcia is a Mexican citizen, and because both Mexico and the United States are signatories to the Vienna Convention, Garcia is afforded certain rights under the Treaty.  Under Article 36 (reproduced below), Garcia should have been notified (but was not notified) of his right to contact the Mexican Consulate, which could have provided legal aid and assistance in his defense.

Despite calls for a stay of execution, Texas Governor Rick Perry has signaled that he will not halt the execution, and the Obama administration has filed a brief supporting a stay with the US Supreme Court.

It may be unlikely that Garcia’s trial would have had a different outcome had he obtained access to the Mexican Consulate’s services; however, allowing an execution to occur when the defendant’s rights under international treaty law were not properly afforded is a serious infraction of international law.  The US Supreme court has until tomorrow to intervene in the case.

More info concerning the facts of this case and opinion can be found in the following easily digestible articles:

Texas Is Pressed to Spare Mexican Citizen on Death Row, by Adam Liptak, New York Times.

In Texas, a Death Penalty Showdown With International Law, by Nicole Allan, The Atlantic.

Supreme Court to Decide on Mexican’s Execution, by Reid J. Epstein, Politico.


Article 36


1.  With  a  view  to  facilitating  the  exercise  of  consular  functions  relating  to  nationals  of the sending State :

(a)  consular  officers  shall  be  free  to  communicate  with  nationals  of  the sending  State  and  to  have  access  to  them.  Nationals of the  sending  State  shall  have the same  freedom with  respect to  communication  with and  access to  consular  officers  of the  sending State;

(b)  if he  so  requests,  the  competent  authorities  of the  receiving State  shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if, within its  consular  district,  a  national  of  that  State  is  arrested  or  committed  to  prison  or  to  custody  pending trial  or  is  detained  in  any  other  manner.  Any communication addressed  to  the  consular  post  by  the  person arrested,  in  prison,  custody  or  detention  shall  also  be  forwarded  by the  said  authorities  without  delay.  The said  authorities shall inform the  person  concerned  without  delay  of  his  rights under this sub-paragraph;

(c)  consular  officers  shall  have  the  right  to  visit  a  national  of the  sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with  him  and  to  arrange  for  his  legal  representation.  They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment.  Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.

2.  The right referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article shall be exercised in conformity with the laws and regulations of the receiving State,  subject  to  the proviso,  however,  that  the  said  laws  and  regulations  must  enable  full  effect  to be  given  to  the  purposes  for  which  the  rights  accorded  under  this  Article  are intended.

Oct 212010

Two news items:

First, Reuters reports that the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia over $40,000 for banning gay parades.

The judgment is a limited victory for the humanitarian organizations supporting gay rights because the Court has no jurisdiction to force Russia to allow the parades to commence.   The Court may hear cases and fine a country held in violation of international law.  Therefore, Moscow will suffer the small fine and international criticism, but there is no guarantee that the Court’s judgment will result in Change in Moscow’s practices.

Second, you might be interested in the added tension as the UN Security Council meets to discuss Iran’s nuclear program next month because Iran has announced the trial of the three American hikers in Iranian custody for alleged “espionage and illegal entry” into Iranian territory. [All three will be tried even though one was previously released on bail.]  The trial is set to begin on November 6.  The New York Times covers the story.

Oct 052010

My mind is reeling from the string of news articles suggesting that developing countries could sue nations for damages incurred from global climate change.

Many nations claim harm from global climate change, including small nation islands facing rising ocean waters.  According to the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development, developing countries claiming to be harmed by climate change could sue industrialized nations.  Theoretically the countries could sue for injective relief (forcing industrialized nations to curb emissions), financial damages, or both.

This seems unlikely for many reasons.

As Edward Cameron, former advisor to the Maldives, said in a New York Times article, there are issues relating to how the suit is brought and what political consequences bringing such a suit may have on a developing nation (i.e., the withdrawal of foreign aide, etc.).  On the flip side, Cameron speculates that threatened litigation may push countries like the US to adopt climate change reform rather than face the uncertainty of international litigation.

I do not see how such a case could ultimately succeed.  Assuming you passed all of the procedural and evidentiary hurdles, will global power players (and chief polluters), i.e. industrialized nations, allow a judgment against a nation knowing that they would likely face the same liability?

Sep 272010

For a little Monday morning fun, I provide the following:

There is excitement at the United Nations over the organization’s alleged plans to appoint an ambassador to aliens.

That is correct… an ambassador to space aliens.

And why not?  When the little green creatures arrive on earth and say, “take me to your leader,” there will be someone to take them to.

The lucky selectee was alleged to be  Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman; however, she denies the news.  As of now, there is no official comment from the UN.

Proof that I am not making this up (and who could), you can visit the Washington Post for confirmation.

Sep 162010

Earlier this summer, I blogged about the addition of crimes of aggression to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.  The ICC adopted the resolution after years of controversy, and since the resolution’s adoption, there has been increased debate on the new crime’s potential effectiveness.

The ICC’s ability to prosecute a crime of aggression revolves around a very loose definition, and determining when such a crime has been committed will be primarily (but not exclusively) decided by the United Nations Security Council.   This creates a host of issues, including whether any state or person will actually face the charge; whether actions such as humanitarian missions could be considered acts of aggression; and whether the crime will become politically charged by the political actors on the Security Council.

I find the definition to be too malleable, and obstacles standing in the way of effective enforcement are immense.  I could write at length explaining this, but in the interest of delivering a concise blog, I thought it might be helpful to at least highlight other resources/opinions on the matter.

First, the Council on Foreign Relations has published a brief look at the crime, which is summarized:

The idea of holding national leaders to account for waging wars of aggression has moral appeal and historical pedigree.  But whether the International Criminal Court can try such cases is a thornier issue.

The full text can be found here.

Another contrarian view can be found at the Foreign Policy Blog, in a posting written by David Bosco.   He chronicles a potentially controversial, yet pragmatic position.

Finally, if you are interested in a longer, more detailed study of the problem, you should consider Oscar Solera’s writings.  Mr. Solera has written extensively about adopting a standard for a crime of aggression, and earlier this year, before the ICC Conference, published a paper, The Definition of the Crime of Aggression: Lessons Not Learned.   For those invested in the topic and unfamiliar with Mr. Solera’s writings, I highly recommend it.

Aug 232010

… Maybe if you live in the Middle East.

I could easily focus this blog on human rights issues.  Just flipping through the today’s paper I read about rising homicide rates in Venezuela and mass rape in the Republic of Congo.  However, it was the following story that grabbed my attention.

Two years ago, a Middle Eastern man attacked one of his countrymen with a meat cleaver, leaving him paralyzed and causing the amputation of a foot.  The attacker has been arrested, tried and found guilty.  His punishment?


The crime occurred in Saudi Arabia, and under Islamic Sharia law, which allows “eye for an eye” types of punishment.  So, you cause paralysis, you get paralyzed.

The Saudi Arabian government is consulting area hospitals to find one that is willing to sever the defendant’s spinal cord.   Human rights activists are protesting the potential punishment; however, the punishment is indicative of the rationale behind Islamic law.

This punishment would violate numerous faucets of international law, including the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

This story is starting to get significant media attention, and it is possible that a global outcry would persuade Saudi Arabian government to forego this particular punishment.  However, it does not diminish the daily human rights abuses occurring in the Middle East under Islamic Law.  At some point international human rights must be given greater urgency and force Middle Eastern countries to evolve their ancient sense of justice.

You can read the full story here.