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Category: International Law & Treaties

An Aging UN in 2015. But How About a New UN in 2020?

The new report from the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, suggests that the 75th anniversary year in 2020 might be the moment to reinvent the United Nations.

What kind of United Nations would we invent if we were designing it from scratch today? The UN Charter was signed by President Harry S. Truman and other world leaders in San Francisco on June 26th, 1945, and came into force three months later on October 24th. A long seven decades later, our world seems smaller, our fates more intertwined, and our challenges drastically different from those confronting the generation that emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. Is it time to begin devising architectures of global governance not "to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s," but instead intended for our own unfolding 21st Century?

Common Oceans: The Vision of Elisabeth Mann Borgese

The people of the earth [have] agreed that the advancement of man in spiritual excellence and physical welfare is the common goal of mankind...that therefore the age of nations must end, and the era of humanity begin.

           —Preamble to the Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution

 Elisabeth Mann Borgese (24 April 1918 – 8 February 2002) was a strong-willed woman. She had to come out from under the shadow of both her father, the German writer and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, and her husband, Italian literary critic and political analyst Giuseppe Antonio Borgese.

 Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain was a monument of world literature between the two World Wars, and Mann felt that he represented the best of German culture against the uncultured hordes of the Nazis.  He took himself and his role very seriously, believing that his family existed basically to facilitate his thinking and writing.

G.A. Borgese regularly lectured at various universities on the evils of Mussolini. A leading literary critic and professor in Milan, he left Italy for the United States in 1931 when Mussolini announced that an oath of allegiance to the Fascist State would be required of all Italian professors. For Borgese, with a vast culture including the classic Greeks, the Renaissance Italians, and the 19th-century nationalist writers, Mussolini was an evil caricature which too few Americans recognized as a destructive force in his own right, and not just as the fifth wheel of Hitler's armed car.

Revisiting "The Grand Bargain of the NPT"

On March 5, humanity celebrated the 45th anniversary of the coming into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We also celebrated one more day of dodging the nuclear bullet, sitting in the chamber of the gun in our own hands. Along with my colleagues at CGS, I am convinced that we will not dodge this bullet indefinitely—unless someday the nations of the world comply with all the terms of the NPT and abolish nuclear weapons forever from the face of the earth.

So as a relatively new CGS guest blogger, I offer you a piece I published on the Huffington Post five years ago, excerpted from my book Apocalypse Never, to commemorate the NPT's 40th anniversary and to explain what the treaty is fundamentally about.

You might want to read it quickly.

Because that bullet, aimed at each and every one of the 7.2 billion human souls alive today—not to mention the infinite number of our future descendants who have not yet even had the chance to be born —is not staying in that chamber forever.


Finding the Path Toward World Law

We recently celebrated the birthday of Louis Sohn (born 1 March 1914), who played a key role in the development of world law. His Cases and Other Materials on World Law stressed the difference between "international law," which is born of treaties between two or more States, and "world law," which is the composition, functions, powers and procedures of organs of the world society. 

World Law consists of norms and values which are binding on all States and individuals, regardless of whether a State has ratified a specific treaty. The 1948 Convention against Genocide, for example, is world law even if a State has not ratified it.

Additionally, when a State joins the United Nations, it pledges to follow the norms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Declaration as world law is binding on individuals and the administration of States which are not UN members, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, and what may become States in eastern Ukraine.

Louis Sohn, who died in 2006, would no doubt be following current events in Ukraine with passion. He was born in Lviv, then part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire; the city became part of Poland during his youth and university studies, then part of the Soviet Union and now Ukraine − a testimony to the changing nature of States and nationality.

Palestine Joins the International Criminal Court

Palestine’s recent accession to the International Criminal Court is a crucial step toward accountability for grave crimes in the region and toward a peaceful resolution of one of the world’s longest running conflicts. The ICC’s jurisdiction will take effect on April 1st, making Palestine the 123rd state party.

In joining the Court, Palestine also submitted a declaration to the ICC under Article 12.3 of the Rome Statute granting the Court jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on Palestinian territory since 13 June 2014—the date of the initiation of the Israel-Gaza hostilities this past summer.

“The Coalition fully supports Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute,” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC. “For 12 years, the Coalition has urged all states to exercise their right to join the ICC, and key members have made special appeals to both Israel and Palestine to join the Court during the last year, which saw some of the deadliest and most destructive armed conflict between the two countries.” 

“We hope this move will contribute to ending the cycles of violence between Israel and Palestine,” Pace continued. “Contrary to the position of some, Coalition members argue that enforcing international humanitarian law strengthens the peace process, while also giving victims recourse to legal remedy.”

Civil society has long urged both Israel and Palestine to join the ICC in order to stem well-documented mass violations of human rights during the course of the decades-long conflict between the two.

Palestine and the ICC: National Sovereignty vs. Human Rights

One day after a failed bid at the UN to push a Middle East peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority President announced a move for the PA to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a way of seeking to get international judicial support for its ‘war crimes’ allegations against Israel. Now UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has indicated that the Palestinian Authority will be allowed to join the ICC.

Israel’s Netanyahu noted that the Palestinian Authority really should refrain from taking this case to the ICC because of Hamas’s own rocket attacks on Israeli population centers and their use of civilians as human shields. ICC prosecutors have made it clear in the past that they will investigate all allegations of misdeeds in a dispute, not just those of one side.

Most unprejudiced people would agree that there must be accountability for anyone committing war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Unfortunately, at present the ICC can work only in those cases where nation-states, even those accused of crimes, allow it in their jurisdiction. This is another example of the miserable state of the present international system where unlimited national sovereignty is allowed to trump human rights. Even though 139 countries have signed the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the ICC, the most horrific crimes against humanity perpetrated in the past decade—in North Korea, Syria and Sri Lanka, among other places—presently remain outside of the ICC's reach. 

The US and Torture: What Now?

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently released a much-anticipated executive summary of a more than 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s tactics in questioning detainees in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. 

The report documents in detail the inhumane "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the CIA at various facilities around the world. The techniques included the use of insects, rectal feeding and rehydrating, sleep deprivation, prolonged standing, and threats to family. 

Findings indicate that interrogators frequently went beyond the limits outlined by the Department of Justice, subjecting detainees to extremely aggressive tactics that often proved fruitless.  

The report details the interrogation of at least 39 detainees, focusing specifically on one detainee, Abu Zubaydah. In the case of Zubaydah, waterboarding was more regular and more extreme than previously reported. During one session, he lost consciousness and water and air bubbles began to come out of his mouth.

The US is now coming under scrutiny of many international organizations and countries, including the UN. The UN special Rapporteur on human rights, Ben Emmerson, has called on the US to hold senior officials accountable, stating that there is an international obligation to re-open inquiries into alleged breaches of human rights.

From "Womenomics" to "Womenpowerment"!.jpg

Japan has begun implementing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new strategy to revive its economy. Dubbed “Abenomics,” the plan – which includes printing more money and a huge buy-back of government bonds – has one key focus: women.

Slightly less than half of Japanese women participate in the workforce, making them a largely untapped resource in increasing the country’s productivity, outputs, and buying power. In fact, it is estimated that Japan could raise its GDP by as much as 14% if female participation in the workforce increased to 80%. Moreover, “‘higher female employment could actually help raise, not lower, fertility rates’,” helping to “insulate Japan from the impending economic challenges posed by its aging population.”

This is the logic behind Abe’s mission to “unleash the power of ‘womenomics,’” the idea that “a country that hires and promotes more women grows economically.” Some of his goals of pursuing womenomics include:

Human Rights, the US, and International Law

The ideal of international human rights spans over 40 years, beginning with the Unverisal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, there have been nine international human rights treaties adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. These treaties, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stand as the pillars by which the rights of the world's citizens are based.
Recently, we have highlighted two key treaties that have gone too long without ratification: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The Disability Treaty: When Did We Decide Not to Lead?

Senator Kelly Ayotte calls for US ratification of CRPD

On July 26, 1990, former President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was a groundbreaking document underscoring the need for a standard of treatment for Americans with physical and mental disabilities. In his address to the nation at its signing, Bush declared,

This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. The first. And its passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.

And he was right: the US had taken a leadership role on this issue. It was something to be proud of and served as a first step in bringing these same protections to peoples around the world.

As delegations came together to draft the Disability Treaty, officially known as Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), there was great hope that US leadership would extend to this new convention. This was not an unreasonable expectation, as the US was involved in the drafting of the treaty under President George W. Bush, and in 2007 entered a yes vote on the floor of the UN General Assembly. Yet we ultimately fell short, failing to ratify a convention we helped create.

This was a great disappointment to the convention’s creators as they had hoped the US could be depended upon to be a leader in advancing the mission of the Disability Treaty. According to Jake LaRaus’ The Birth of a ‘Big Lie’, the treaty “exports US leadership on disability rights, non-discrimination, and equality.” He argues that,