Potential for ICC role in Syria

UntitledMembers of Congress last week heard a concise and valuable account of how the International Criminal Court could aid efforts to hold wrongdoers in Syria’s civil war accountable.

Use the court as “a ‘reference point’ for the national system,” Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch urged in Wednesday’s testimony before House subcommittees on Africa and the Middle East & North Africa. (Video/screenshot credit here; text of Dicker’s remarks here.) Dicker was among 5 men who testified at the hearing, entitled “Establishing a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal?”

To that question, Dicker answered “No.” He said:

‘[T]he solution most likely to provide justice is not a stand-alone ad hoc tribunal for Syria.’

He then listed “practical obstacles” learned from precedent examples like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Even putting to one side the precarious security situation in still-at-war Syria, delay would be inevitable in devising a legal framework, finding and setting up facilities, recruiting personnel, and gaining state cooperation; indeed, Dicker contended that the time lag and expense likely would “be more costly than if a permanent institution is tasked with investigation and prosecution.”

The institution to which he pointed is the ICC – that is, an ICC given the needed resources to commit fully to constructing investigations that could deter further offenses, while preparing affected communities for meaningful accountability at national as well as international levels. (This resources issue is addressed in the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan just released by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, and in prior posts on Syria and on the ICC.) Also essential, Dicker told the assembled U.S. Representatives, would be candid and open support of the United States:

‘[T]he US government should make clear its position on the ICC instead of demurring behind concerns that Russia and/or China would veto any Security Council resolution which aimed to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. … There are now 64 countries supporting such a referral, including six Security Council members, so the administration would be smart to at least begin talking about how the court can play a constructive role.’

He pressed his audience to prod the Executive Branch:

‘[T]he administration’s overall justice strategy on Syria should take the ICC into account. Congress is well placed to press the administration on this point and I hope these subcommittees will consider doing so.’

‘Accounting for children in armed conflict’

monitoring_and_reportingMuch to ponder following “Accounting for Children Affected by Armed Conflicts,” a dialogue in which I was honored to take part on Friday, as part of International Law Weekend-NYC, the 92d annual meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association.

Joining me on the panel were Mark A. Drumbl, Washington & Lee University Law Professor, and Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights Division for Human Rights Watch. (Both are authors of books published in 2012: Mark, Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law & Policy, which I reviewed here, and Jo, Campaigning for Justice: Human Rights Advocacy in Practice.) Our able moderator was Jonathan Todres, the children’s rights expert who chairs the Section on Children and the Law of the Association of American Law Schools.

Before an audience of academics, practitioners, and students, we four explored a range of issues related to children in and affected by armed conflict. We began with questions related to child soldiering:

► Why do some treaties, like the 4th Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute, outlaw recruiting of children under 15? Why do others, most notably the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Children’s Rights Convention, set the age at 18? And what are the implications of setting either as the threshold age?

► How does the presence of children in the ranks affect armed forces – not only discipline and professionalism within such units, but also the rules of engagement for adult units that find themselves confronting children in combat?

► How ought children affected by armed conflict be reintegrated into their societies? How can laws and transitional justice programs take into account the youth and vulnerability, as well as the age and agency, of children?

► To what extent can international efforts change norms respecting children in armed conflict? And to what extent can newly established norms be implemented on the ground?

As might be expected, international criminal law was considered; in particular, child soldiering convictions in cases like Lubanga at the International Criminal Court (my casenote here), and Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Also looked at were noncriminal mechanisms for prevention, protection, and accountability; for example, the processes of monitoring and reporting, and naming and shaming, developed by the U.N. Security Council and administered by the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui. (Her annual report, which she presented before the U.N. General Assembly on October 17, is here.)

Those processes concentrate on 6 “grave violations” against children. One of the 6 – attacks on schools – is notable given the panel’s discussion of threats to education in times of armed conflict. Becker spoke of efforts to document military use of schools and to put an end to such use by urging armed forces to endorse guidelines banning the practice. Such a ban is needed, she said: such use endangers children and teachers not just by militarizing educations, but also by transforming the school buildings into legitimate military targets. (credit for © 2006 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, with the caption “Coats of students hang on the wall of a partially destroyed school in Kabul, where children attend as part of the ‘Back to School’ campaign launched by the Afghan government with UNICEF’s support to bring 1.7 million students back to school.”)

Ensuring safe and peaceable education could do much to improve the well-being of girls and boys – not to mention the societies that they one day will lead.

Opportunity to serve as Watchlist advocate on behalf of children in armed conflict

watchlistWatch List on Children in Armed Conflict welcomes applications for the position of Advocacy Officer.

Founded a dozen years ago, the New York-based nongovernmental organization that works on behalf of children in and affected by armed conflict through monitoring and reporting, through support of local groups, and through offering policy advice to U.N. entities working on the subject. It keeps track of developments in a dozen countries, from A (Afghanistan) to U (Uganda), and is the producer of the award-nominated smartphone app (icon below). The NGO’s publications include monthly updates on the issue as it plays out at the Security Council and elsewhere in the United Nations.

The new Advocacy Officer will be expected to promote these goals via a range of activities and duties. The successful applicant will have at least a master’s degree and 5 years’ work experience in relevant areas.children-in-armed-conflict-180

Applicant requirements and application details regarding this full-time position here.

Million men asked to “Ring the Bell” in campaign against violence against women

bell‘You can call a man who hits a woman a lot of things, but you can’t call him a man.’

– Michael Rawlings, Dallas’ mayor, announcing his support for “Ring the Bell,” a new global campaign to get 1 million men to promise to work for an end to violence against women. (credit for 1915 photo of the Liberty Bell) For more information on the campaign, go to your favorite social medium: the Web or Twitter or Facebook or YouTube.

International Law Weekend ideas sought

AbilaThe American Branch of the International Law Association is looking for a few good panels. Well, more than a few, and more than just panels: the group and its cosponsors just issued a call for proposals for panels, roundtables, and lectures. Selected proposals will become sessions at the annual International Law Weekend, which brings profs, practitioners, and students to New York City to explore a common theme. This year’s event, on the topic of Internationalization of Law and Legal Practice, is set for October 24-26, 2013.

The Program Committee – Jack Beard (Nebraska), Aaron Fellmeth (Arizona State), Steven Hammond (Hughes Hubbard), Blanca Montejo (U.N. Office of Legal Affairs), Vivian Shen (International Law Students Association),  Nancy Thevenin (Baker & MacKenzie), and David P. Stewart (Georgetown) – writes:

The unifying theme for this year’s meeting is to examine how and why an appreciation and knowledge of international law is an increasingly relevant and important professional tool for virtually every lawyer. Panels may explore, for example, how international law principles and instruments are involved in such domestic areas as civil litigation, commercial transactions, trade regulation, family law, criminal prosecution, intellectual property, bankruptcy, and dispute settlement. Others may address international legal developments in such rapidly evolving substantive areas as public health, cyber and telecommunications, human rights, the environment and outer space – especially those under consideration in international organizations. Still others might focus on the specific mechanisms by which international law affects domestic law and legal proceedings such as treaty implementation, application of customary international law, or proof of foreign law.

Deadline for proposals is March 15. Full call, with submission details, here.

Workshop on persistent perpetrators of armed-conflict violence against children

“How to Deal with Persistent Perpetrators?” will be the question at hand when experts gather at Princeton University next month. Princeton’s Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination is convening the February 7-8 Workshop on Children and Armed Conflict in cooperation with Liechtenstein’s Permanent U.N. Mission and a New York-based nongovernmental organization, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. Regarding the topic (also see here and here), organizers write:

children‘In armed conflict around the world, hundreds of thousands of boys and girls face serious violations of their safety and human rights, including forced recruitment and abduction. Girls are often disproportionately affected by sexual violence, exploitation, and abuse in conflict zones. The day-to-day lives of children in areas of armed conflict are further impacted by attacks on schools and hospitals. Although the United Nations’ Children and Armed Conflict agenda has made tangible progress in recent years to hold perpetrators accountable and to prevent future violations, there remains an urgent need for more effective programs and policies to address the needs of children and families affected by armed conflict.’

The public session on Thursday, February 7, will begin with a director-led screening of the short film Ana’s Playground (2009). Thereafter, Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, will deliver a keynote on “The Role of the United Nations in Protecting the Rights of Children Affected by Armed Conflict,” and a panel composed of  Jo Becker, Advocacy Director for the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, and Eva Smets, Director of WatchList on Children and Armed Conflict, will examine “The Role of the UN and NGOs in Protecting the Rights of Children Affected by Armed Conflict.” The gathering will conclude the next day with a closed-door experts’ workshop. (image credit)

Details and RSVP here.