Ecocide: the international crime that could have been but never quite was

This post was first published in NBXMain in October 2015

Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are international crimes and, since 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate individuals accused of having committed acts of that nature. From 2017, under certain circumstances the ICC will also have jurisdiction in relation to the crime of aggression. These are the four international crimes recognised in the Statute of the ICC. There was a time, however, when scholars, international bodies and even some government officials spoke about a possible fifth international crime: Ecocide.

Ecocide was a crazy idea promoted by a bunch of visionary/loony academics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Aware of the fact that human action was causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem, they argued that humanity as a whole could be considered to be the victim of premeditated forms of aggression against the environment.

The idea could have remained an exercise of academic engineering had it not resonated, even if mildly, in international political discourse. Most famously, the then Prime Minister of Sweden, Olaf Palme, said in his opening address of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Environment:

”The immense destruction brought about by indiscriminate bombing, by large scale use of bulldozers and herbicides is an outrage sometimes described as ecocide, which requires urgent international attention.”  Continue reading

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Should rights be submitted to referendum? (You won’t find the answer here)

0fe51435c8d9f2e165e32117bb1d8c65-800xEarlier this year, many of us felt proud of Ireland. 62% of Irish people voted to proclaim marriage equality in the national constitution. Ireland, a country of profound Catholic roots, had become the first country to recognise at the constitutional level the right to marriage regardless of sexual orientation. It was very good news for those who believe in human rights, equality and non-discrimination.

Last week, only seven months after the Irish vote, 63.5% of the Slovenian electorate rejected a law allowing same-sex marriage. Turnout was rather low (36%), lower than in Ireland (61%), but enough to make the result just as valid. The result was particularly disappointing considering that in 2005 Slovenia became the first Eastern European country to legally recognise same-sex partnerships. (By the way, two days after Slovenia voted against equal marriage, the Greek Parliament voted in favour of civil partnerships for gay people).

Reportedly, the Slovenian constitution forbids referendums on human rights issues, but the Constitutional Court authorised the popular vote called by a civic platform (suggestively named “Children Are At Stake”) that had gathered more than 40,000 signatures.

I haven’t been able to find the ruling in English, so I am not familiar with the Court’s reasoning, but the Slovenian story makes me wonder: Should rights be submitted to referendum? Continue reading

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La vivienda no ha sido un derecho durante la crisis. ¿Lo será después?

Según datos del Instituto Nacional de Estadística, la cantidad de hipotecas concedidas aumentó casi un 22% entre julio de 2014 y el mismo mes de 2015, hasta llegar a las 21.863 operaciones. Este número está todavía lejos de las 130.000 de 2005 o 2007, pero sugiere que el mercado inmobiliario español puede estar remontando. La crisis todavía no pertenece al pasado. Pero ahora que parece que la economía vuelve a construirse con ladrillo, resulta necesario preguntarse: ¿Seremos capaces de edificar una política de vivienda sobre la base de los derechos humanos?

En los últimos años centenares de miles de personas han perdido sus viviendas a consecuencia de ejecuciones hipotecarias. Muchas siguen a día de hoy en esta misma situación.

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Bombardment of Damascus 90 years later: Two questions around the Responsibility to Protect

France bombed Damascus 90 years ago as a reaction to the Syrian revolt for independence. France held the mandate over Syria under the League of Nations authority. The day after an attack against French troops, France bombed the city for 48 hours. It is said that between 1000 and 5000 people died. Bombardments continued the following months.

France’s intervention was authorised by the Western powers and by the League of Nations. And precisely the endorsement of the League triggered the reaction of Arab critics: Was France allowed by international law to intervene militarily in Syria? Continue reading

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Dear fellow jurists, human rights are about politics, and that’s perfectly fine

socialjusticeFor decades, the global human rights community has seen human rights as a matter of law, mostly international law. Economic, social and cultural rights, however, are meant to be progressively realized making use of all available resources. The violations approach and the work on their justiciability do not address the structural factors that constrain the enjoyment of these rights. Human rights are about policy and politics as much as about law. There is room for human rights advocacy outside and beyond the limits of the law.

Abstract of a chapter by Koldo Casla in Can human rights bring social justice?, book edited by Amnesty International Netherlands in the Changing Perspectives on Human Rights collection.

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Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015

Amnesty International held its International Council Meeting (ICM) this last week in Dublin.

The Strategic Goals were the most important issue under consideration, but Amnesty delegates from all over the world also talked about internal governance nationally and internationally, fundraising, austerity, resource allocation, and the work on individuals at risk, for example.

Yet, one other issue stood out: sex work. After months of preparation and internal and external discussion, Amnesty was presented with the guiding principles of a draft policy to decriminalise sex work in order to protect the rights of women and men in this sector.

The proposal had generated massive interest not only among Amnesty members, but also far beyond. Social and conventional media bustled with comments for and against the resolution, or perceptions and reinterpretations of it.

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Right to housing in Spain: What have the Romans ever done for us?

Should we say thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands? I must admit we were not sure how to start the report Evicted Rights: Right to Housing and Mortgage Evictions in Spain, published by Amnesty International – Spain on 23 June 2015 (see here in Spanish).download (1)According to judicial statistics, there have been nearly 600,000 foreclosure procedures since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. Luckily, not all of them have ended up in an eviction, neither do all affect first homes. So, if not all, how many then? If we check the data from the National Statistics Institute and the Bank of Spain, we will get some information about the number of households and first homes that have gone through a mortgage foreclosure since 2012. Yet, not even then we’ll have the full picture. It may seem strange, but to this day there are not yet official statistics about the number of people who have lost their home because they couldn’t keep paying back their debt to the bank.

However, combining different sources, we can confidently say that since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted or are at risk of being evicted due to over-indebtedness and high unemployment (around 23%). Figures are overwhelming, but not as much as the testimonies of Ainhoa, Maritza, Sara, Francisco and 41 more people who shared their stories with Amnesty International. They are human rights defenders; they claim their own rights, and the rights of their relatives, friends and colleagues, of all of us, really. Continue reading

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