Universal Jurisdiction

Today in POLI 1140, we discussed and debated the topic of universal jurisdiction. What is universal jurisdiction? Universal jurisdiction is

a legal concept that permits states to claim legal authority beyond their national territory for the purpose of punishing a particularly heinous criminal that violates the laws of all states or protecting human rights. Mingst and Arreguin-Toft (222)

The most celebrated case in this relatively new area of international jurisprudence is that of former Chilean military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, about whom the New York Times editorial board wrote in 2004:

Thanks to a Chilean court ruling on Monday, the day at last seems to be approaching when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former military dictator, will go on trial for crimes committed decades ago. General Pinochet is now a very old man, but normal feelings of sympathy would be misplaced. This trial should have begun years ago.

The long delay is entirely the result of General Pinochet’s effort to evade legal accountability. The charges concern one of the most chilling crimes of his nearly 17-year rule, an international conspiracy to hunt down and murder opponents of Latin America’s military dictatorships in the 1970’s. That plot got under way in the days when Henry Kissinger was running American foreign policy for Richard Nixon, and the the United States did too little to discourage it, even though one of the resulting murders was carried out on the streets of Washington.

Gen.Pinochet would die (at age 91) before facing his accusers.

What has prompted the recent emergence, and codification into both international–for example, Article 49 of the First Geneva Convention–and domestic–Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act–law, of the concept of universal jurisdiction? According to one of the world’s leading human rights NGOs–Amnesty International–it is because

As genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are crimes under international law, all states should investigate and prosecute the crimes before their national courts.

Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparations to victims.

Of course, there are many detractors to the use of the concept of universal jurisdiction. The aforementioned Henry Kissinger has argued the concept not only risks “judicial tyranny” and cases like that of Gen. Pinochet set a “dangerous precedent” (though Kissinger is certainly less than a disinterested figure in this case!), but that

The danger [in pushing for universal jurisdiction] lies in pushing the effort to extremes that risk substituting the tyranny of judges for that of governments; historically, the dictatorship of the virtuous has often led to inquisitions and even witch-hunts.

In class, we viewed the first ten minutes of the video below in which advocates and opponents of the concept of universal jurisdiction debated the relative merits of the idea with respect to the potential arrest of Israeli diplomats on visits to Great Britain for alleged war crimes in Israel/the Occupied Territories.

In the video, Professor Dan Scheuftan, of the University of Haifa notes

[although] International Relations is political…[the increasing use of universal jurisdiction will] politicize the legal system as well. again by radicals, usually from the extreme left using it [universal jurisdiction] as a propaganda ploy.

What do you think? Is the concept a valid tool in the fight to bring perpetrators of heinous human rights abuses and war crimes to justice, or is it more likely to be abused (than used) in the politicization and propagandization (is that a word?) of international justice?

 

Current UN Peacekeeping Operations

In POLI 1140, we spent part of last session watching major portions of the documentary, The  Peacekeepers, which explored the role of the UN is setting up and escalating a peacekeeping mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The documentary used a behind-the-scenes approach to analyze the issues faced by the world’s foremost IGO in implementing its mandate to “protect international peace and security”. The focus of the documentary was on the Ituri region in the eastern DRC province of East Kivu.

As the above map notes, the UN, though the auspices of its Department of Peacekeeping Operations, currently has 16 active peacekeeping missions worldwide. The former DRC mission, known as MONUC, has been transformed, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1925, into MONUSCO.

As of the start of this year, this is the strength of the peacekeeping force in the DRC:

  • 19,070 total uniformed personnel
    • 16,975 military personnel
    • 723 military observers
    • 1,372 police (including formed units)
  • 976 international civilian personnel*
  • 2,868 local civilian staff*
  • 588 United Nations Volunteers

Currently, in 16 DPKO-led peacekeeping operations, there are almost 120,000 personnel (uniformed and civilian) serving from 115 different countries, while approved resources for the 2012 fiscal year are almost $8 billion US.

Mind you, this is only one aspect of the world’s greatest IGO–the United Nations. Remember also that the UN is only as strong and as capable as its members states make it. Thus, when you hear somebody say “the UN did this,” or “the UN didn’t do that”, what you should remind these people is that they should be saying “the member states, which comprise the UN, did (or did not do) this, or that…”

 

“Ghosts of Rwanda” Documentary

As a video supplement to the Rwanda chapter from Samantha Power’s book on genocide, and the Gourevitch book, we viewed the first part of the PBS Frontline documentary “Ghosts of Rwanda” in class today. Please view the remaining hour or so sometime before next Friday’s class as we will use the first portion of that session to continue our discussion on the international community’s failure to halt the slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis by the Hutu-led Rwandan government.Here’s the first part of the documentary. Click on the video to take yourself to Youtube, where you will easily find the remaining parts.

 

Canada’s Official Recognition of the Armenian Genocide

There was some uncertainty in seminar a few days ago regarding the Canadian government’s official stance on the Armenian genocide, which began in 1915. In short, Canada as of 2004 officially recognises the Armenian genocide. From a 2004 CBC story–“Canadian Parliament Recognizes Armenian Genocide”:

The House of Commons has reversed a long-standing policy and passed a resolution denouncing the Turks for committing genocide against Armenians in 1915.The vote passed easily, 153-68.

The motion said: “That this House acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.”

For decades consecutive Canadian governments have dodged the sensitive issue by calling what happened in eastern Turkey a “tragedy,” stopping well short of referring to the events as “genocide.”

The U.S. dropped a similar resolution a year earlier after the White House warned it could hurt U.S. security interests.

Before Wednesday’s vote in Parliament, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham issued a statement saying “Canada has had friendly and co-operative relations with Turkey and Armenia for many years. The Canadian government is committed to make these relationships even stronger in the future.

For a transcript of the debate in the House of Commons, go here.

William Buckely and Noam Chomsky Debate Military Intervention

Here’s a fascinating debate from the 1960s between two American intellectual giants–William Buckely and Noam Chomsky–on the morality of military intervention. Chomsky makes a very strong claim: in the history of humankind never has a state intervened military on the basis of disinterested (i.e., altruistic) motives. Military intervention is always about the furthering of self-interest, but is often dressed up in garb of humanitarianism. Chomsky notes, of course, the few exceptions; exceptions, that is, in the sense that some states didn’t even bother trying to put a veneer of humanitarianism on their naked power grabs–think Belgian in the Congo.

IS 302–Reading Questions for Freedom’s Battle (Bass)

The readings for this Friday’s seminar come exclusively from Gary Bass’s recent book Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. Here are some of the questions that will orient class discussion

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Humanitarian interventions of the 19th century were less humanitarian than imperialistic. Great powers simply cloaked what amounted to self-interested military intervention in the garb of humanitarianism, when these interventions were nothing of the sort. Explain.
  2. Is the realist worldview tenable, given what you know about some of the humanitarian interventionS of the 19th century?
  3. What was the effect of media–the so-called CNN effect–on the humanitarian impulses during the 19th century?
  4. What does Bass mean by an “imagined humanity?” Continue reading

The “New Humanitarianism” and Rule vs. Act Utilitarianism (Consequentialism)

In chapter 3 of Humanitarian Intervention Weiss analyses “new wars” and “new humanitarianisms.”  The changing nature of humanitarian work is characterized by many things, but I’d like to focus on one particularly, which will lead us to a discussion of the importance of neutrality and the concepts of rule and act utilitarianism.

Weiss argues that humanitarian responses, by NGOs particularly,  are becoming more ambitious in scope and thereby shifting from a focus on short-term emergency relief to “attacking the root causes and post-conflict peacebuilding.” He continues,

“rather than provide band-aids, they [humanitarians] wish to use assistance and protection as levers. Many aid agencies desire to spread development, democracy, and human rights and create stable, effective, and legitimate states.” (76)

This has led, concomitantly, to a change in the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. These principles, Weiss notes, “made sense if the objective was to provide relief and gain access to affected populations.” These principles, it is argued, foundered upon the reality that contemporary wars–“new wars”–were creating “unanticipated and unintended negative consequences.” Moreover, in a world in which the combatants are state militaries, neutrality and impartiality retained some internal logic. However, as genocidaires and other ty[es of rebel groups become the main combatants in civil wars and the predominant perpetrators of crimes against humanity, the principles of neutrality and impartiality come to be seen increasingly as relics of a bygone era.

A few students took issue with this argument, insisting that there are also likely to be unintended consequences of humanitarian organizations repudiating the principles of neutrality and impartiality. They mentioned some of these in class. This prompted a quick excursion by me into the difference between act and rule utilitarianism/consequentialism. I’ll explain below the fold:

Bosnia Muslim leaders argued that the neutrality policy allowed Messrs. Karadzic and Mladic free reign in their campaign to ethnically cleanse large swaths of Bosnia of (well-fed) Muslims.

Continue reading