United Nations

Delighted to be back in Washington for the 113th Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law, and to have the honor of leading a roundtable aimed at exploring contemporary security governance.

Entitled Challenges and Prospects for International Peace and Security: UN Peacekeeping, NATO, and the UDHR at 70, the roundtable will take place 9-10:30 a.m. this Thursday, March 28. Participants (including some names different from ASIL’s printed program) are:

  • Michael W. Doyle, University Professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
  • Steven Hill, Legal Adviser and Director of the Office of Legal Affairs at NATO Headquarters in Brussels
  • Bruce Oswald, Professor and Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law in the Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne; and
  • Rita Siemion, International Legal Counsel at Human Rights First

After noting that UN Peacekeeping, NATO, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights all are marking their 70th anniversaries, the roundtable description asks:

“Have they failed to deliver on their original promise or have they adapted effectively to contemporary global realities? Is their future dependent on the continuation of Western hegemony and unity? Can they adapt to the changing nature of security threats, rising powers and a waning commitment to multilateralism? Are they instruments for peace, security and the promotion of international law? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead?”

Thanks to Jesse Clarke, member of the annual meeting planning committee and the Assistant Secretary, Office of International Law, International Division, in the Department of the Australia Attorney-General, for organizing what promises to be a stimulating discussion.

More on annual meeting participation by my colleagues from the University of Georgia School of Law Dean Rusk International Law Center, and me, here.


“‘Protecting Children’: A Welcome Addition to Efforts to Redress Wartime Harms,” an essay I published yesterday at Just Security, underscores connections among a number of recent initiatives related to children and armed conflict.

The essay welcomes Protecting Children in Armed Conflict (Hart Publishing 2018), the 600-page report of the 2017 Inquiry on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict spearheaded by Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and current UN Special Envoy for Global Education. (I served on the Inquiry’s Advisory Panel.)

Leading a team of researchers was Shaheed Fatima QC, a barrister at London’s Blackstone Chambers, who spoke on this work at the International Law Weekend panel last month. (prior post here) My Just Security essay offers a detailed description and favorable critique of this research, noting the work’s connections with what the UN Security Council terms the “Six Grave Violations against Children in Armed Conflict.”

The essay further draws links between this work and the 2016 International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor Policy on Children, which I had the honor of helping to prepare in my ongoing service as ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict. (prior post here) The essay points to “the complementary potential of these and other initiatives,” and concludes:

Together, they may advance two essential goals: first, to articulate norms prohibiting wartime harms against children; and second, to secure redress for any such harms that occur.

My Just Security essay is here. It is part of a miniforum which began with a post last week jointly authored by Fatima and Brown, available here. The Just Security series will continue with forthcoming posts by Sarah Knuckey (Columbia Law), Alex Moorehead (Columbia Law), and Alex Whiting (Harvard Law).


LOS ANGELES – On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am honored to be spending this month at the USC Shoah Foundation, reviewing testimonies of persons who did their part to set right one of history’s terrible wrongs.

Seventy-three years ago today, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp located about 45 miles west of Kraków, Poland. Liberations of other camps by other Allied forces soon followed; among them, the U.S. liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, and the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen 4 days later.

Sixty years later, a 2005 U.N. General Assembly resolution set this date aside for commemoration of World War II atrocities (image credit); to quote the resolution, of

“… the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities …”

The resolution further:

  • honored “the courage and dedication shown by the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps”;
  • rejected “any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event”;
  • envisaged the Holocaust as “a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”;
  • denounced “all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur”; and
  • encouraged initiatives designed to “inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.”

Among the many such initiatives are memorial centers and foundations throughout the world – 2 of which have helped me in my own research into the roles that women played during postwar international criminal trials at Nuremberg.

In December, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, located in Glen Cove, New York, opened its archives to me. Special thanks to Helen  Turner, archivist and Director of Youth Education, for her assistance.

This month, as the inaugural Breslauer, Rutman and Anderson Research Fellow, I am in residence at the University of Southern California, examining documents in USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive. It has been a fruitful and moving scholarly experience, and I look forward to sharing my research at a public lecture on campus at 4 p.m. this Tuesday, Jan. 30, video available here (as I was honored to do last week at UCLA Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights; video here). Special thanks to all at the foundation’s Center for Advanced Research – Wolf Gruner, Martha Stroud, Badema Pitic, Isabella Evalynn Lloyd-Damnjanovic, and Marika Stanford-Moore – and to the donors who endowed the research fellowship. (Fellowship info here.)

As reflected in the 2005 General Assembly resolution, the work of such institutions helps to entrench – and to prevent backsliding from – states’ promises to ensure and respect human rights and dignity norms, set out in instruments like the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To this list I would add the many documents establishing international criminal fora to prosecute persons charge with violating such norms – from  the Nuremberg-era tribunals through to today’s International Criminal Court.

The U.S. President’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly today sought to draw support from the example of a predecessor, Harry S Truman, who encouraged the founding in 1945 of the United Nations Organization. But on close comparison – that is, analysis more searching than that in a just-published, facile Time account – today’s speech is a far cry from the global vision of Truman era.

“The United Nations represents the idea of a universal morality, superior to the interests of individual nations. Its foundation does not rest upon power or privilege; it rests upon faith. They rest upon the faith of men in human values – upon the belief that men in every land hold the same high ideals and strive toward the same goals for peace and justice.”

So said Truman in 1950 to the General Assembly in New York, delivering the traditional head-of-state speech on behalf of his country.

In the aftermath of World War II – a war that he had brought to a close following the death-in-office of President Franklin D. Roosevelt – Truman pushed for establishment of an international organization that would bring collective security to a world that, then as now, was troubled. His United States hosted the diplomatic conference at which the Charter of the United Nations was adopted on June 26, 1945. That Charter lays out a plan for international regulation of the use of military force – a plan established by, to quote the Charter’s very first words:

“We the peoples of the United Nations determine to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…”

U.S. President Harry S Truman addresses 1945 San Francisco Conference to draft the Charter of the United Nations. (credit)

In April 1945, fewer than two weeks after VJ Day, Truman had opened that San Francisco Conference with a speech that placed collective security over the whims of any single country. To quote President Truman:

“The essence of our problem here is to provide sensible machinery for the settlement of disputes among nations. Without this, peace cannot exist. We can no longer permit any nation, or group of nations, to attempt to settle their arguments with bombs and bayonets.”

Five years later, his 1950 address to the General Assembly acknowledged:

“Governments may sometimes falter in their support of the United Nations, but the peoples of the world do not falter.”

By way of example, Truman in 1950 cited the “widespread,” “overwhelming,” and collective efforts of the United Nations to repel the then-recent invasion of South Korea. “In uniting to crush the aggressors in Korea” – note that Truman spoke of crushing aggressors, and not of destroying an entire country – he maintained that countries had “proved that the charter is a living instrument backed by the material and moral strength of members, large and small.”

In the U.S. head of state’s General Assembly speech today, the world heard a very different address, by a very different holder of the office of the U.S. President. Today’s speech referred to Truman and Truman-era policies like the Marshall Plan as purveyors of “three beautiful pillars,” of “sovereignty, security and prosperity.”

It must, however, be noted that no reference to sovereignty or prosperity may be found in the two pivotal Truman speeches. Not one of the three quoted words appears in the speech by which Secretary of State George Marshall announced his eponymous plan, either. Security does receive mention in Truman’s April 1945 speech, but in a global, collective, and cooperative, and not an individual nation-state, sense, as here:

“With firm faith in our hearts, to sustain us along the hard road to victory, we will find our way to a secure peace, for the ultimate benefit of all humanity.”

Truman’s envisagement of “peace, for the ultimate benefit of all humanity” exists worlds away from the enshrinement in today’s speech of individual state sovereignty.

about-iwdToday’s the 105th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Inspired by speeches at an International Conference of Working Women the year before, in 1911 Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland set aside a day in March to honor women’s demands for equality. Each year more countries joined in. The arrest of suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst during a London demonstration on March 8, 1914, fixed the 8th as IWD-Day. (credit for IWD image at top)

Further globalizing the Day was U.N. General Assembly Resolution 32/142. Adopted on Dec. 16, 1977 (the same day the Assembly also considered a Draft Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a version of which it would adopt 2 years later), Resolution 32/142:

Invites all States to proclaim, in accordance with their historical and national traditions and customs, any day of the year as United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace …”

Most countries followed tradition and chose March 8, and paid note to annual U.N. themes (this year’s is #PledgeforParity).

The United States was a bit late to the party. Yet American observances increase every year, and last week, President Barack Obama proclaimed:

“I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. I also invite all Americans to visit http://www.WomensHistoryMonth.gov to learn more about the generations of women who have left enduring imprints on our history.”

And so we will.

loc

With the President delivering his final State of the Union address as I write these lines, I couldn’t help but have a look at my own very early endorsement of and pledge to work for (as a member of his campaign’s Human Rights Policy Committee) then-Senator Barack Obama. It holds up pretty well 8 years later, even if not everything turned out as, well, hoped. Here, once again, is my Jan. 3, 2008, IntLawGrrls post:

(An Iowa Caucus Day item) Soon after the 2d inauguration of George W. Bush, whose Presidency already had been marked by abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, by the folly of the Iraq invasion, and by the failure to incapacitate Osama bin Laden, I began to prepare for the next election cycle. 
My road to 2008 began on the freeway, listening to politicians read aloud the books in which they endeavored to tell their own stories in their own words. My Life, the memoir by Bush’s immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton, filled in some details about a man who in the 1990s had dominated current events. In Living History his wife, Hillary Clinton, read her precise account of those same times. The works left me appreciative yet disengaged.
Then, on a colleague’s recommendation, I listened to Barack Obama read Dreams from My Father, the “story of race and inheritance” he’d written a decade earlier. The last thing I expected to discover were things in common. And yet here was someone who’d also moved about as a child, been raised at times by grandparents. Who’d also witnessed Harold Washington’s milestone mayoral election while working in Chicago — who’d worked a few years before moving on to law school, then to law teaching. Whose family ties put him in close contact with newcomers to America and with relatives overseas. (Yesterday, in the Voice of America interview here, Obama urged political rivals in Kenya, his father’s homeland, to “address peacefully the controversies that divide them.”) A progressive Illinoisan who preferred consensus to conflict.
His campaign’s followed lines sketched in Dreams and detailed in his 2d book, The Audacity of Hope. The operative word remains “hope” — discussed by means not of doe-eyed promises of the impossible, but of substantive policy prescriptions. There’s a focus on building a movement, one that underscores the significance of a fact seldom studied despite the reams of copy written about Obama: This is someone whose sensibilities were shaped by years of organizing poor people in job-starved communities, a real world experience that all politicians could use but few have. The campaign’s unabashed reaching across the aisle, moreover, comes as a relief to all exhausted by the pitched political battles of the recent past.
And then there’s Obama’s foreign policy.
This is a candidate who fears not to speak with favor of the United Nations and other international bodies. Who speaks of the essential need for the United States not simply to demand from its allies, but rather to earn from them, respect and assistance. Who understands “security” to mean more than military might. A candidate who persists in a plan to meet personally with world leaders of all political persuasion, to cut in on diplomatic dances of avoidance that sometimes extend distance between cultures.
Not least is Obama’s denunciation of Guantánamo and all it stands for: indefinitedetention for purposes of interrogation, abandonment of habeas corpus, cruelty and torture. It’s unequivocal and delivered to all audiences.
Aiding Obama are scores of foreign policy experts and international lawyers. They include many noted and respected women, among them: Pulitzer Prizewinning Harvard ProfessorSamantha Power; Patricia Wald, former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District ofColumbia Circuit and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and Dr. Susan E. Rice, formerly assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs.
It may seem odd that someone who’s spent nearly a year blogging the achievements of the world’s women leaders is working for this candidate. Would I welcome as President a woman who’s made her own way, who stands on her own feet, who promises to bring the best to the job? Certainly. I’ll embrace that candidate, when she emerges.
Now, though, this IntLawGrrl’s honored to be doing her wee bit for Barack Obama, the human who pushes people to “Change the World.”

eleanorToday is Human Rights Day. On this day 67 years ago, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted what has become the touchstone articulation of humans’ place in our world.

We – “All human beings” – proclaims the 1st article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” All of us “are endowed with reason and conscience,” it continues. It follows, then, that each of us “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” In the French version adopted at the same time, that last word is “fraternité,” and hearkens to the French Déclaration, the American Declaration and Bill of Rights, and many others.

Indeed, the document itself benefits from views of sages throughout the world. Gandhi was one who weighed in, thanks to a survey sponsored by UNESCO. The American Law Institute contributed a Statement of Essential Rights. That statement, like the Universal Declaration as a whole, owes much to the Four Freedoms that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt identified in a 1941 speech before Congress.

A half-decade later, that president’s widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, would chair the U.N. committee tasked with drafting the Universal Declaration. Among those joining her in the work were John Humphrey of Canada, Peng Chun Chang of China, Charles Malik of Lebanon, and René Cassin of France. At the time the document was adopted, she declared:

“This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”

It would be easy to look wistfully to that statement, to assume that the world once was better than it seems today. Yet even then, fissures were apparent:

► No state voted against the Universal Declaration, but not every state voted for it, either. Eight of 56 countries abstained: the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, Yugoslavia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

► Since 1948, the United Nations has grown to nearly 200 member states. Many of the newcomers once were colonies of states that endorsed the Universal Declaration. Even some of the charter members have undergone profound changes – the China that sent diplomat Chang in 1948 is quite different from the China that now holds the U.N. seat.

► The challenges of sovereign-state diversity and the aims of universal equality – for women as well as men, sisters as well as brothers – change with globalization. The United Nations’ 2015 Sustainable Development Goals represents the body’s latest effort to respond.

► Even the chief proponents hedged their support. By way of example, Roosevelt’s ringing endorsement quoted above occurred in a statement that took pains to stress what the United States did not mean to endorse. In a line that bears echo with later U.S. Supreme Court decisions in DeShaney and Gonzales, she said:

“[M]y government has made it clear in the course of the development of the declaration that it does not consider that the economic and social and cultural rights stated in the declaration imply an obligation on governments to assure the enjoyment of these rights by direct governmental action.”

► Other states turned a colder shoulder toward civil and political rights, signaling that even at its birth, the notion of the indivisibility of rights would prove difficult to sustain and enforce.

Thus today, even as we celebrate another Human Rights Day, we must redouble our efforts to make the promise of the Universal Declaration a reality for everyone who has been born, free and equal, in dignity and rights.

(Photo: IntLawGrrls’ Eleanor, in her new home at our Dean Rusk International Law Center)