Ghosts of Rwanda

In POLI 1140, we have read an excerpt from Rwanda section of Samantha Power’s prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, in which Power assesses the reasons for the lack of response by the Clinton administration in the spring of 1994 to the developing genocide in Rwanda. Power makes many points but one of the most trenchant is that despite the apparently early decision by Clinton that he would not send US troops to Rwanda (fearful that another Somalia could ensue), many other actions–short of sending troops-could have been taken by the US government and military. Something as simple as sending planes with the capability to jam radio frequencies may have slowed down the killing and saved countless lives.

Here is a compelling and very informative documentary by PBS’ Frontline series on the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide, paying special attention to the lack of action on the part of the United Nations and the United States. Many of the ideas in Power’s book are addressed here.

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?

 

Thomas Lubanga First Person Convicted by ICC

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 will stand as a watershed moment in international relations and in international law, specifically. Thomas Lubanga, former militia leader in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the first person ever convicted by the recently formed International Criminal Court (ICC). Though there have been dozens of convictions of war crimes suspects from the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, these cases were process by temporary courts–the ICTY and the ICTR, respectively–and not the ICC. Lubanga was accused of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers in the conflict in the Ituri region of the DRC. Rather than playing a role in the post-war political process, (which he had hoped) Lubanga was arrested in March 2005 and extradited to the ICC one year later. It is only now, seven years after his arrest, that a verdict on this case has come down.

Lubanga’s conviction is the end of a multi=year trial process, the legitimacy of which was undermined at times by the lack of prosecutorial professionalism, and other issues. For more about the trial, go here, and watch the videos below.

Documentary on Partition of Palestine 1947–With Map

In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted 33-13 (with 10 abstentions and 1 absent) in favour of a resolution (181) that would partition Palestine between Jews and Arabs. Today in IS309 we watched Benny Brunner’s documentary, Al Nakba (“the catastrophe”, in Arabic), which sets out to tell the story of the partition, the ensuing civil war, and the Arab-Israel war of 1948. The documentary was based on the historian Benny Morris’ book, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-49. We discussed (at times heatedly) issues regarding the morality/efficacy of partition as a potential solution to some situations of inter-ethnic conflict. In addition, we read Chaim Kaufmann’s article “When all else fails: Population Transfers and Partitions in the Twentieth Century,” which argues that there are situations where partition is a legitimate policy approach to inter-ethnic violence.

The face of Statelessness–Canadian Style

Last week I asked if all the world’s residents have citizenship. We discovered that the answer is `no’ and that there are approximately 15 million  stateless persons worldwide.  On the way to work this morning, I was listening to the CBC program The Current, which reported on the peculiar story of a young girl living in Belgium, whose father is a Canadian citizen, but who is currently not a citizen of any country. She does not fulfill the requirements of Belgian citizenship (which does not have universal jus soli citizenship rules), and as of last year falls through a loophole in Canadian citizenship law as of changes in the law that were enacted last year.

From the program:

Citizens of Nowhere – Ian Goldring

Chloe Goldring is 15 months old. She lives in Brussels, Belgium. And she has no citizenship. She is officially stateless. She has ended up in this situation because of a change made to the Canadian Citizenship Act in April of 2009.

Since then Canadians who were born abroad, in this case her father, are no longer able to pass on Canadian citizenship to their children, unless those children are born in Canada. The change was brought in to target parents born outside Canada who come here, obtain citizenship, and then return to their country of origin and pass along Canadian citizenship to children who may never have any intention of coming to Canada.

You may remember this became an issue in the summer of 2006 when there was a public outcry over Canada’s move to rescue Lebanese Canadians during the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon that summer. Well that is the change that Chloe Goldring has been swept up in.

Chloe’s father Ian Goldring is a Canadian who lives in Brussels.

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.

Citizenship and Statelessness

Do all persons have citizenship?

No. It has been estimated that there are currently about 15 million stateless persons worldwide. From the Nubian people of Kenya to residents of the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent, statelessness is a global phenomenon affecting the health, economic well-being, and human security of the individuals, families, and groups involved.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has produced a series of documentaries on the issue, the introduction to which can be viewed below. From the description:

Although some stateless people are refugees, many have never crossed a border or left their country of birth. Although the problems related to statelessness may manifest themselves differently, at the root is a group of people who have been denied a legal identity.

A stateless person is not recognized as a citizen by any state. Citizenship enables you not only to vote, hold public office, and exit and enter a country freely, but also to obtain housing, health care, employment, and education. Citizenship is necessary in order to live a decent human life. Stateless people are denied that right.

For more information, visit http://www.soros.org/stateless