Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ICC Prosecutor presents first two indictments for crimes committed in Darfur

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno-Ocampo has today released the ICC's first two indictments arising out of its investigation of war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan. That evidence is showing that Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Minister of State for the Interior of the Government of the Sudan, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Militia/Janjaweed, jointly committed crimes against the civilian population in Darfur. Indictments allege that Harun and Kushayb bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes and it also suggests shows they acted together, and with others, with the common purpose of carrying out attacks against the civilian population. You may read press release here.

Ideas for Upcoming Events?

It appears from the schedule that we have no events planned for the next couple of weeks. Would anyone be interested in showing another movie or conducting another discussion? If you have any ideas, please post them in the comments section.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Upcoming Research Seminars

The Legal Research Society is proud to present the following two research

Derek Fincham
Wednesday, February 28 Taylor Building A15, 17:00

A Legal and Ethical Evaluation of the dispute between Italy and the Getty
Museum over the bronze "Statue of a Victorious Youth",

The bronze statue, known as "the Statue of a Victorious Youth" was
purchased by the Getty in 1977 for close to $4 million. It has been
attributed to the Greek sculptor Lysippos, the 4th century BC sculptor for
Alexander the Great. Today, the nearly life-size statue is one of the
excellent pieces of the Getty's Greek and Roman collection. It was found
in 1964 by fisherman from Fano, somewhere in the Adriatic Sea. The
Italian Culture Ministry has made repeated demands for its return, while
The Getty maintains the purchase was legitimate.

Jernej Letnar Cernic
Monday, March 19 Taylor Building A19, 17:00

Corporate responsibility for Serious Breaches of Human Rights Obligations
Deriving from Peremptory Norms of International Law,

Do corporations have basic human rights obligations in the international
legal order and are they obliged to comply with peremptory norms of
international law? Can corporations violate human rights obligations or is
the term "human rights violation" only limited to misconduct by
governments? Does there exist corporate responsibility for serious human
rights violations in municipal law and in international law? Should
domestic legal orders provide for enforcement mechanisms for addressing
human rights violations directly or indirectly committed by corporations?
Or is international legal order more appropriate choice for effectively
dealing with corporate human rights violations? Does it make a difference?
If yes, what is a difference?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Supreme Court Ruling on Punitive Damages

The Supreme Court issued two 5-4 decisions this Tuesday. They indicate that new Chief Justice John Roberts may not be as adept at compromise as many had thought. When Roberts was nominated for the court, many praised his diplomatic and well-reasoned answers at his Congressional confirmation hearing.

The cigarette damages case is particularly interesting, and creates a difficult and contradictory due process analysis.

The Ruling in Phillip Morris USA v. Williams will hardly be praised by subsequent scholars for its clarity. It sets up a confusing analysis for evaluating punitive damages.

The original lawsuit was brought by a smoker's widow. Her husband, Jesse Williams smoked 2 packs a day for 45 years. He died of lung cancer 9 years ago.

In Oregon State court, a jury awarded the widow a record $79.5 million in punitive damages. The Oregon State Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Williams argued the cigarette industry committed "massive market-directed fraud" which misled the public. In response, the cigarette maker argued a jury can only punish Phillip Morris for damage done to the plaintiff, not all the other cigarette smokers.

Breyer authored the opinion, joined by Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, and Souter. Dissenting were Bader Ginsburg, Scalia, John Paul Stevens and Thomas. The most liberal judges were joined in the dissent by the most conservative judges.

The Court said that the constitutional right to legal due process under the 14th Amendment forbids the state court from using punitive damages to punish a defendant for damage done to others not a party to the litigation. But, due process allows the consideration of those harms. Contradictory right? As Breyer stated for the majority, "evidence of actual harm to non-parties can help to show that the conduct that harmed the plaintiff also posed a substantial risk of harm to the general public, and so was particularly reprehensible ... however, the jury may not go further and use punitive damages to punish a defendant directly on account of harms it is alleged to have visited on others."

The Supreme Court is asking lower courts to walk a difficult line here. Juries can consider damage done to other plaintiffs, but only as evidence of the harm done to the plaintiff in the present suit. It's a difficult test to implement. It may not have too great an impact though, because I don't think many states have a similar jury instruction process to Oregon. Does the Supreme Court have any business telling juries how to implement damages? After all, punitive damages are meant to punish and deter. In determining whether or not to punish, it seems you can take into account harms to others not involved in the suit. But, in terms of the amount, you can only take into account the damage done to the plaintiff.

Hopefully the new Chief Justice will begin to work towards better compromises in the future, to prevent this kind of awkward legal analysis. The nearly $80 million award did seem a bit extreme, and it was likely to get overturned. The Court could have done a better job implementing a workable test though.

Monday, February 19, 2007

June 13-14 CASS Conference in Aberdeen

4th Annual College of Arts & Social Sciences Postgraduate Conference, at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Law Section Call For Papers

The Law Section of the Organising Committee of College of Arts & Social Sciences Postgraduate Conference, at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland invites graduate students undertaking legal research to submit abstracts for consideration. The Conference will take place over two days (13-14 June) in the beautiful surroundings of King's College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

The aim of the Conference is to give graduate students in law from across Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe and the world the opportunity to present papers reflecting excellence in legal research. This event aims to bring together PhD students with an interest in all aspects of legal research, but particularly those interested in Comparative, European, International, Intellectual Property or Art Law. Our goal is to encourage all areas of legal research at the conference. You are invited to be an active participant in the symposium by presenting a piece of your own work to an audience of other PhD students, academics and interested members of the public. This will give you the valuable opportunity to practice talking about your own work alongside others at similar stages in their academic careers.

The theme of the conference is recent developments in any field of Comparative, European, International, Intellectual Property or Art Law, a topic designed to allow as many people as possible to discuss what impact recent developments have had on their areas of research.

It will provide a forum for debate, the exchange of ideas, and the furtherance of knowledge. Papers must be no longer than 20 minutes in length, and may include audio and visual elements within this timescale. Presentations will be grouped thematically and panels will allow for discussion following each paper. Interested applicants should send a 500 word abstract and a CV by the 16th April 2007 to abstracts_movingforward@abdn.ac.uk. Authors will be notified of acceptance by 30 April 2007.

If you have any questions, please contact Derek Fincham at law388@abdn.ac.uk or Jernej Letnar at jernej.letnar@abdn.ac.uk.

Further information can be obtained by emailing: info_movingforward@abdn.ac.uk or by consulting the Conference's Website at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/cass/pgradconf/.

Hotel Rwanda and Discussion

On Tuesday 20th February at 5pm we will screen Hotel Rwanda in Taylor Building Room A19. This will be followed by a short discussion about the issues raised in the film. Further information, including a trailer, can be found by clicking here. Discussion should spill over here so be sure to check back.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Public discussion on situtation in the Basque country

Basque people of Aberdeen are organising public discussion with speakers from the Basque Country. Discussion will take place on Thursday, 15 February at 7pm in the New Kings Building 11, King's campus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

You are all invited to take part in the discussion on the social and political situation in the Basque county.

More information: basquesolidaritycampaign@hotmail.com

Same Sex Union and Religion

The italian project of a civil union law is provoking extreme reactions in the country, as it was sadly predictable. The Vatican is trying to insist on the inviolability of the family understood as the union between a man and a woman. The Church is unable to understand that discrimination vis-a-vis homosexuals is comparable to any other type of discrimination based on race, or religion.

For a more balanced religious view, listen to Michael J Perry, a Catholic Law Professor at Emory, in his recent book Toward a Theory of Human Rights:

"I expect that within the next generation or two -within the lifetime of our children's children-- the understanding will come to be widely shared, in the world's liberal democracies, that refusing to recognize same-sex unions, if not morally akin to outlawing interracial unions, is nonetheless bereft of any non demeaning rationale.'

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Functional foods – The future of nutrition and its impact on European food law

Next Tuesday, 13/02 at 5 pm, Michael is going to present his PhD thesis which he will submit at the University of Salzburg (Austria) shortly. As usual, the presentation will be followed by a discussion.

Here is a short introduction:

Functional foods – The future of nutrition and its impact on European food law

Are the EU food regulations coming into force this year part of the EU’s alleged “excessive regulation”? Do we really need special legislation for Becel, Actimel, Red Bull and other functional foods? Or should we maybe simply consider them as ordinary foodstuffs or even a kind of medicine?

The European Food and Drink Industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Europe with an annual turnover of over € 815 billion. However, the food market is saturated. So the industry is trying to find new market potential. With changes in lifestyle and a changed perception of nutrition functional foods claiming to affect body functions beneficially (protection from disease, prevention of diseases, providing general well being etc.) are becoming the "foodstuff of the future" with a current turnover of about 5 billion EURO.

Examining the new EU regulation Michael’s presentation will give an insight into a highly dynamic area of law (including food labelling) and argue that consumer protection and product safety indeed require separate regulation for functional foods however these laws must be balanced with the Lisbon Agenda on Economic growth.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dabney Evans on NPR

Dabney Evans, a PhD candidate at the AU Law School, recently wrote this short essay for NPR's "This I Believe" series. Many of the essays are broadcast on National Public Radio in the USA. Dabney adopts a first hand US/Scottish comparative perspective to illustrate her views regarding the right to health:

My arm is still a little sore from the flu shot I received earlier this week. I have been getting the flu shot for years and not only because I work in the field of public health and believe in good public health prevention efforts. But also because I am diabetic and fall into one of the high risks categories that entitles me to receive the flu vaccine, even though there has been a shortage of doses for the past few years.

This year was different though. This year I got my flu shot in Scotland where I was working for the Fall. I called up the National Health Service and got an appointment. The next morning I walked a total of 5 minutes to my local branch, got my flu jab and walked out the door without paying a penny. I was able to receive affordable quality health care with almost no effort on my part. I could do this as a visitor to this country and not because I had a job that provided me with health insurance or because I have the money to pay medical expenses out of pocket. Compare this to the situation in the US where over 46 million Americans find themselves uninsured. Almost 30 million of those fellow citizens without health insurance were employed. I am fortunate to have a job that provides me with health insurance and access to the insulin that my diabetes requires daily. But the number of people covered by employment- based health insurance is on the decline. One day I might find myself uninsured.

I believe that Americans have the right to a system of accessible, available, affordable, and quality health care. I believe this not only because I am a diabetic or because I work in the field of public health. But I believe that the right to health is a fundamental human right that all people are entitled to regardless of race, sex, nationality, employment or health status. The right to health is a birthright no different from the right to life or the right to freely express one’s opinion. Yet, the US is the only developed country in the world without universal health insurance for its population. If other countries have figured out ways to do it I have no doubt that the US is similarly capable. We simply lack the political will to do so. Human rights are often coupled with responsibilities and we each have a responsibility to demand of our representatives that they address the gap in health insurance that affects nearly 1 in 5 Americans. Health sector reform will no doubt be a difficult and complicated process. But only when the US has joined every other developed nation in providing universal health insurance to its citizens will we begin to fully realize the right to health to which we are all entitled.

Another Reaction to An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore raises an important point about the place of science in environmental governance. He reveals that not only has unanimous scientific opinion on global warming been sidelined but that government-commissioned scientific reports have been doctored by inexpert political appointees.

Aside from the political fallout, the major legal issue here is the extent to which science should be taken into account to rectify environmental harms perpetrated in the past. There is no doubt that science has some role to play in development planning and environmental impact assessments. However, these legal frameworks do nothing to change the status quo. They are designed to prevent future harm. In the absence of legislative frameworks to rectify the status quo, administrative organs are powerless. In the absence of a public political outcry there is nothing that will bind legislators to heed to scientific fact and subsequently to empower administrators.

Gore admits to having lost some faith in political processes that he thought would eventually come round to the view that has been patent to him for years. He inadvertently reveals that global warming is an issue that should shake the constitutional foundations of many States. Legislative action should measure up to a constitutional yardstick that places science at the centre of decisions that impact the human habitat. I have no doubt that this will be viewed as a radical approach. It is also one that would encounter difficulties if ever it were adopted because natural science can only be one of several considerations. However, shouldn't the habitat that we depend on be a matter of constitutional importance in much the same way that the dignity of each individual is? Should the legislature not be prevented from adopting measures (or refusing to adopt measures) on the basis of considerations that fly in the face of scientific fact?

Reaction to An Inconvenient Truth

Ole Pederson did an excellent job guiding the discussion after the screening. He summarized the discussion as follows:

The first meeting of the Legal Research Society following the Christmas Holidays took place yesterday with the showing of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth from 2006. The movie, which recently landed Al Gore an Academy Award nomination in the category for best documentary feature, presents the problem of global warming facing mankind in an easy-to-understand tone. The event was extremely well attended and the movie was followed by a short discussion. The discussion raised a number of concerns and issues. These included: the efficiency of the current legal framework of the Kyoto Protocol; the justification for exempting developing states from the Kyoto Protocol; the need for developed states to be at the forefront of a campaign to tackle CO2 emission; the importance of individual and personal action; the juxtaposition between long term effects and short term investments; and the financial gain that might await states if they develop special ‘green’ technologies.

Well said. I'll admit to being skeptical of much of the global warming coverage in the media. However after seeing the movie, I thing it definitely changed my perspective on the debate. Though much of the media's coverage of the issue strikes me as superficial, Gore made an even-handed and reasonable case. I think his views accomplish a noteworthy first step: he's convincing skeptics that global warming is a very serious and very real threat. One wonders as well whether Gore will consolidate this good will over his academy award nomination and Nobel Peace prize nomination to make a run for the White House. He might, but I think he's accomplished a lot outside the White House. A lot of our discussion seemed to focus on what to do in the developing world. Cleaner alternatives are more expensive, and how should we encourage developing nations to skip the "dirty development" stage which the US embodies currently. Today's NYT had an article on China's claim that wealthier countries should do their part first.

I found it especially interesting to watch the film with a non-American audience. Some of Gore's statements understandably failed to strike a chord. In particular, he talked about the US refusal to ratify the Kyoto accord. Though that decision by Congress and the President does indeed seem unfortunate, we should remember that California, and much of the East Coast has voluntarily agreed to abide by the treaty. These two parts of the country account for the lion's share of US emissions. The fact remains though that the US is the World's largest CO2 polluter. Much of that has to do with American culture. It's a big nation; the whole of Scotland equals the size of South Carolina. We're a nation built around the car and the open road. I think Gore's most noteworthy accomplishment with the movie may be to highlight the futility of that kind of American wastefulness to themselves.

Monday, February 05, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth and Discussion

This Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 5 pm, the Society will be showing An Inconvenient Truth, followed by a short discussion in Taylor Building room A19. Check back here for discussion and responses by the audience.