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

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

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

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.

Continue reading “Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015”

The ugly t-shirt or the cost of supporting feminism in Britain

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wear the Fawcett Society’s feminist T-shirt.British media are echoing the claim that the t-shirts Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman posed with a few days ago were made in Mauritius by workers being paid 62p an hour. Fawcett Society, the organisation behind this campaign, promised that they take this allegations very seriously and they are looking into it. The t-shirt says “This is what a feminist looks like”. Each t-shirt costs £45.

It is true that the working conditions are not the exception, but the norm in this sector. Having said that, it has been clumsy. And it is Fawcett’s fault. Continue reading “The ugly t-shirt or the cost of supporting feminism in Britain”

¿Por qué prohibir la tortura si vamos a seguir torturando?

obama_tortura_cia-webLa semana pasada, el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos condenó a Polonia por permitir en su territorio interrogatorios y retenciones secretas de la CIA en el marco de la llamada “Guerra contra el Terror”. Según la agencia Reuters, un portavoz del Gobierno polaco dijo: “La sentencia sobre las cárceles de la CIA es vergonzosa para Polonia y supone una carga para nuestro país, tanto económica como para nuestra imagen”. Casos relativos a otros países europeos están pendientes de resolución en Estrasburgo. Hace unos meses, el Senado estadounidense votó a favor de la desclasificación de un informe sobre el programa de detención e interrogatorios de la CIA. Se espera que la Casa Blanca lo permita próximamente, pero el propio Obama ya ha reconocido lo que todo el mundo sabe: Estados Unidos utilizó la tortura. El Gobierno británico está dando muestras de nerviosismo ante la próxima difusión de dicho informe, que a buen seguro acreditará la complicidad de sus servicios secretos. La organización de derechos humanos británica Reprieve ha denunciado que el Gobierno de David Cameron está instigando para retrasar la publicación de este informe y censurar apartados comprometedores del mismo.

Se supone que hay una prohibición internacional absoluta sobre la tortura. Sería lo que los expertos en la materia denominan una “norma de ius cogens”. La prohíbe la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos de 1948, el Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos de 1950 y el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos de 1966, además naturalmente de la Convención Contra la Tortura de 1984, ratificada por 155 países. Sin embargo, Amnistía Internacional ha documentado y denunciado prácticas de tortura y otros malos tratos en 141 países en los últimos cinco años. Casi la mitad de las 21.000 personas encuestadas por Amnistía en 21 países de todo el mundo reconocieron temer ser torturadas si son detenidas. Continue reading “¿Por qué prohibir la tortura si vamos a seguir torturando?”

International Liberalism and R2P. Have liberalists given up on the ICC?

bashar-al-assad-650x433Granted. The title is a little unfair. The truth is that I am only referring to Michael Ignatieff, but I have the impression that the point is extendible to other international liberals, or rather liberalists. This is pure perception. I would be very happy to be proven wrong. I encourage you to use the space below for that.

The UN inquiry mission on Syria has expanded their list of suspected war criminals. When they presented their report at the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, they assured that their evidence is solid enough to prepare any indictment at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute, but the case could be referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council, as it did unanimously with Libya in 2011 (Resolution 1970).

Michael Ignatieff gave an eloquent lecture at King’s College London on Monday. The title was “Legality, Legitimacy & Intervention After Ukraine”. Initially it said “Syria”, but I guess the organisers (or the speaker) decided to adapt the name to the most current events. In any case, Ignatieff talked about both countries.

At first he assured he was not going to advocate an intervention, but I suppose he could not help it and in the end he supported an action based on the idea of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), a concept proposed in 2001 by the ICISS, a commission he was member of. Continue reading “International Liberalism and R2P. Have liberalists given up on the ICC?”