The Record: This Week in Review

New EU Law- The “Two Pack”

EU lawmakers have introduced a new law to strengthen the euro zone budget discipline and prevent another sovereign crisis debt. The EU commission will now have new levels of insight over member countries’ budgets.

Urgent Action Necessary to Protect the Arctic:

The UN Environment Program has stated that more effective measures need to be put in place to avoid damage to the Arctic. The most important recommendation to help the Arctic is the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions

UN Conference on Disarmament: North Korea v South Korea

North Korean diplomat, Jon Yong Ryong has received much criticism after he stated that South Koreas erratic behavior would result in its own destruction. Such a statement has been viewed as offensive by UN member states.

European Parliament Urges Stricter Reforms As Part of Basel III, But Talks Stall

The European Commission is considering stricter disclosure requirements for European banks as well as limits on the sizes of bonuses as part of the laws that will implement the international Basel III accords on banking regulations. There had been hopes of a deal being reached this week, but talks broke down Tuesday. They are expected to resume next week.

European Parliament Moves Towards Boosting Carbon Market

In 2008, a European carbon allowance cost €30 per ton.  Last year that price had dropped to €9 per ton.  Last month it reached a low of €2.80 per ton.  To support the carbon trading market—and the entire emissions trading scheme—the European Parliament’s environmental committee voted to allow the European Commission to reduce the number of allowances to be auctioned over the next three years.

US Business Groups Renew Push for Legislative Reform to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Last November, the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission released new guidance on how they would enforce the FCPA, which business groups have criticized for being too ambiguous.  While several lobbying groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, offered some praise for the guidance, they released a letter to federal regulators this week calling for legislative reforms to bring greater clarity to the act and provide for additional legal defenses.

Chinese Military May Be Tied to International Cyber Attacks

Mandiant, an American computer security firm, released a report this week that implicates the Chinese Army in a number of cyber attacks against American infrastructure and businesses.

G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers Pledge Not to Manipulate Exchange Rates

Two-day talks by G-20 finance ministers and central bankers ended on Sunday with the group strengthening its stance against exchange rate manipulation.  This is seen as an effort to lower fears of a global currency war and put pressure on Japan to stop publicly providing guidance on its currency’s value.

Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal Introduces Retroactive Legislation to Allow for Death Sentence

Bangladesh’s parliament has amended its laws so as to allow the state to appeal against the life sentence of an Islamist party leader. Jamaat chief Abdul Kader Mullah was given life for his alleged role in crimes in the 1971 war which resulted in independence from Pakistan. The amendment appears to be a reaction to violent protests that called for his execution. Human Rights Watch says the law is worrisome.

Moscow Unwilling to Back ICC Referral of Alleged Syrian War Criminals

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov indicated that Russia would not immediately back calls to refer the civil war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for the investigation and possible prosecution of alleged war criminals. Investigators recently urged the UN Security Council to act.

Afghanistan: “Human Cost of the Conflict Remains Unacceptable”

While the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has decreased for the first time in six years, targeted killings by insurgents – particularly of women, girls and government employees – increased dramatically according to a UN report.

Tunisia Prime Minister Resigns in Shaky Post-Arab Spring Democracy

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has resigned after failing to reach agreement on forming a new government. He had been trying to form a new coalition in response to the political crisis sparked by the killing of opposition leader, Chokri Belaid.

Former Head of State on Trial in Front of ICC

Ivorian ex-President Laurent Gbagbo has appeared at the International Criminal Court. He faces four charges, including murder and rape, in the wake of Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential poll in 2010. Defense lawyers argued that he was already under investigation in his own country and that the authorities there must be the ones to try him under the ICC’s principle of complementarity.

Protest in West Bank for Palestinian hunger Strikers in Israeli Jails

Protesters in the West Bank are marching in solidarity with hunger strikers in Israeli jails. One, Samer Issawi, has been on protest for 200 days and is said to be in critical condition. Many of the hunger strikers are under administrative detention, held without trial or charge by the military because it fears an immediate risk to security or to protect informants. UN as well as European governments have recently called on Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinian detainees.

UN Security Council Warns Yemeni Ex-Leaders Not to Interfere in Democratic Transition

The UN Security Council has warned Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and vice president that they could face sanctions if they continue to interfere in the country’s democratic transition. The statement also expressed concern about money and weapons being brought into Yemen. Mr. Saleh had stepped down in exchange for immunity in a deal arranged by the Council and elections are to be held in 2014.

Intellectually Disabled Prisoner’s Stay of Execution Sparks Legal Uncertainty

Warren Hill, Georgia prisoner who has been found by nine medical specialists to be mentally disabled, came within half an hour of being put to death on Tuesday night. The case has led to reactions from European leaders who called on the U.S. to strengthen its laws prohibiting the death penalty against intellectually disabled prisoners. The postponement is temporary and the Supreme Court has declined to hear his case, which leaves him in a state of legal uncertainty.



China: Re-education Through Labor Finally At an End?

By Ariel Hsiung, Assistant Contributor

Last month, Chinese authorities made the momentous announcement to advance reforms of its re-education through labor system (“RTL”), a highly controversial system that detains people for minor offense for up to four years without trial. Thereafter, Guangdong province in southern China followed up with a statement that it is planning to end RTL within the year. However, the Chinese government has since revealed no further details about what it intends to do with the system.

RTL is a labor camp system that was first established by the Chinese legislature in 1957 to rehabilitate those who did not commit crimes serious enough to be sent to the official criminal system, but, according to Robert Bejesky’s article Falun Gong and Re-Education Through Labor: Traditional Rehabilitation for the Misdirected to Protect Societal Stability Within China’s Evolving Criminal Justice System, are nevertheless in need of “thought reform” so that they can safely be brought back into society. It was modeled after the Soviet Gulag in that citizens can be arbitrarily arrested and detained by police without a trial hearing. Veron Mei-Ying Huang, in Improving Human Rights in China: Should Re-Education through Labor Be Abolished?, noted that the RTL was originally designed for four categories of individuals: (1) counter-revolutionaries; (2) those who violate public order; (3) those that do not engage in manual labor, and (4) people that engage in minor crimes. Overtime, the system has evolved to target drug addicts, prostitutes and followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, whose crimes are considered too minor to warrant a court trial. As of 2008, an estimated 160,000 people were held in 350 labor centers nationwide, according to the Chinese Ministry of Justice.

The system raises some serious due process and human rights concerns. The first is that RTL provides no legal remedy for alleged offenders: they have no right to trial or to counsel. This type of “arbitrary detention” violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides that “anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court.” Even though China may not be bound by ICCPR, since it has only signed but not yet ratified the treaty, this type of arbitrary detention under RTL is clearly against international human right norms and customs. A recent depiction of the harsh conditions within these camps by former detainee, activist Harry Wu, raises further human rights concerns with the way detainees are treated under RTL, such as denying detainees access to medical care and subjecting detainees to beatings.

Second, there are concerns over the “extensive use” of RTL by government agencies, turning it into a “crime control mechanism,” which is at odds with RTL’s original purpose of an informal education procedure aimed at rehabilitation. For instance, the procedure for determining an offender’s sentence is usually chosen by the police officers at their discretion, thus increasing the risk that they will abuse the RTL to circumvent existing criminal procedural requirements. Additionally, as an administrative rather than criminal institution, RTL is not subject to any of the existing “human right safeguards” under Chinese criminal law. Finally, the RTL sentence raises issues of severity: any offender sent to RTL can be imprisoned for up to four years, which is a term more severe than some ordinary criminal punishments such as fines.

Calls for reform to the system over the past few decades have finally accumulated in the Chinese government’s decision to end the practice. This move towards reform can be attributed largely to some recent cases which have garnered widespread attention and galvanized public opinion against RTL. One of the cases involved Ren Jianyu, a college graduate who was sent to RTL for a T-shirt found in his closet that said: “Freedom or death.” Public outcry over his imprisonment led local officials to reduce his two-year sentence and released him from RTL. Another notable case involved Tang Hui, a mother who was given an 18-month RTL sentence after she repeatedly protested that one of the men who had raped and forced her 11-year-old daughter into prostitution had been treated too leniently by the Chinese criminal system. Following another public backlash, officials last summer released Tang from her sentence. Responding to such increasingly negative public opinion towards RTL, the Chinese government has finally advanced reform of the system.

While activists welcome this reform, many are skeptical about the extent and scope of the change. Since Chinese authorities have remained mostly silent on the details of the reform, one can only second-guess at this point what types of changes are likely to be forthcoming. One possibility is that the system will be abolished altogether, which is the option that the Guangdong authorities advocate. Yan Zhichan, director of Guangdong Provincial Department of Justice, said that Guangdong has made preparation work to be the “leading” and “exploratory” region to stop the system and stated that if the system is abolished, those currently detained will be released after the expiration of their sentence. Other provinces may follow the Guangdong model. Nevertheless, it is the central government rather than the provincial officials who makes the ultimate decision, so it remains to be seen whether the central authorities will adopt Guandong’s proposal. On the other hand, some have advocated to keep the existing RTL system but with certain adjustments, such as passing separate legislation on RTL, authorizing courts to review RTL, and shortening terms of RTL to two years or less. Another option, iterated by Veron Mei-Ying Huang, is to incorporate RTL into the existing criminal law system so that offenders will at least have access to procedural protections under Chinese criminal law, but more often than not these procedural mechanisms are subject to official arbitrariness. Whatever reform is eventually adopted, one looming worry is that the reform will wind up being a “less extensive system of administrative detention” that does not advance the rule of law and human rights in China. Accordingly, even if RTL is abolished or replaced by a system of less severe detention, if the police are still given the discretion to imprison offenders without notice or trial, then these reforms may end up leading to RTL 2.0. How the Chinese government will approach this reform remains to be seen, but as of now, it has taken at least a first step in the right direction to ending this practice.

The Record: This Week in Review

Human Rights Watch Finds Israeli Airstrikes in Gaza Violated the Laws of War

Human Rights Watch has sent detailed information to the IDF about numerous airstrikes in Gaza that may have violated the Laws of War.  The airstrikes, at least 18 of them, were carried out during fighting in November 2012 and were the result of Human Rights investigations.  The IDF has said that it is conducting “operational debriefings” of the attacks and will have completed its investigation sometime in February.

UN Security Council Set to Approve Sending Peacekeepers to Mali

Although the Malian government has expressed concerns about the presence of UN peacekeepers in the country (it fears the strengthening of a split between northern and southern Mali) it looks as though the UN Security Council will be approving the deployment of about 6,000 peacekeepers in the coming weeks.  The move comes after French troops have already secured much of the country from Islamist rebels.  Some issues that still remain to be worked out is how this UN peacekeeping force will interact with the UN backed African military force (AFISMA) which is currently fighting alongside French troops.

ICC Orders Extradition of Libyan Spy Chief

 Abdullah al-Senussi, Gadaffi’s ex spy chief, has requested that he be tried by the International Court of Court in the Hague.  He has been denied access to his British lawyer and the ICC, along with other human rights organizations, have expressed concern about his ability to receive a fair trial in the new Libya, which suffers from a weak central government and lack of rule of law.  Libyan leaders however have a vested interest in trying Gadaffi’s family members and supporters in country in order to gain credibility among their own population.

U.N. Sanctions North Korea for Latest Nuclear Tests

Tensions mounted this week with North Korea conducting additional nuclear tests, resulting in tightened sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.  However, nuclear capability concerns are drawing attention away from human rights issues within North Korea.  Current estimations put the number of persons currently held in North Korea prison camps at 200,000, where they suffer torture, rape and slave labor.  Both the United States and Japan will support additional inquiries into human rights violations in North Korea.

Human Rights Watch Report on Yemen

The Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Unpunished Massacre – Yemen’s Failed Response to the “Friday of Dignity” Killings” calling attention to the inadequate investigation and prosecution of those responsible. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 45 protesters, including University students and children, and implicated the involvement of several government officials.

Australian’s Prisoner X

The New York Times reported further details regarding the mysterious death of Mr. Ben Zygier, an Australian citizen also known as “Prisoner X,” who was being held in an Israeli maximum security prison.  Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a statement denying any violation of Mr. Zygier’s rights during the secret imprisonment or criminal proceedings. Mr. Zygier was incarcerated in 2010 and suspected by the Australian government of spying for Israel.

Abuse of Canadian Women Exposed

Human Rights Watch has published a report exposing police abuse of indigenous women and children in Canada.  The report details police brutality, threats of arrest, and shaming.  The British Columbia legislature recently established an investigative unit to further explore “police-related incidents involving death or serious harm.”  The concern is that the majority of the abuse faced is not covered by the definition of “serious harm” and more needs to be done by the Canadian government to protect women and children.

Australia Accused of Human Rights Violations 

Australia has been accused of human rights violations involving 23 Indonesian minors.  They were incorrectly housed in adult prisons where they were sexually harassed by the prison guards.  Jailed between 2008 and 2011, they were originally smuggled into Australia and have since been returned to Indonesia.

Jamaica in Final Stages of Accepting $ 750 million IMF Loan

Jan Kees Martijn, Head of the International Monetary Fund million to Jamaica, stated it has reached a “staff-level agreement” with Jamaica on a $ 750 million loan. Jamaica, which derives most of its GDP from tourism and other services, has seen a decline in its economy over the last thirty years. This loan is intended to reduce Jamaica’s “medium-term financing needs” and to contribute to its “debt sustainability,” Martijn said, but the loan still needs to be approved by the IMF’s executive board—scheduled to be completed by the end of March.

Three International Organizations Collaborate for the First Time

The World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Trade Organization released a book, “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade,” marking the first time that these three organizations have come together to tackle some of the most pressing issues involving medicine and health. The book examines a range of issues related to these fields, uncovers powerful studies, and most notably, provides tools for future development and success of medical technologies and innovations.