Thursday, May 31, 2007

Security Council Responds to Lebanon’s Calls

The UN Security Council yesterday agreed to set up a tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The decision follows requests from the Lebanese authorities after Hariri, an outspoken citric of Syria, and 22 other people were killed by a truck bomb in February 2005. It is still not clear who was behind the bombing in 2005 but a UN investigation last year indicated that Syria played a strong role in the political unrest leading up to the assassination as well as labeling the investigation into the bombing by the Lebanese security forces as seriously flawed. The bombing sparked mass demonstrations in Beirut which subsequently led to withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

The Security Council voted for the tribunal in a 10 to zero decision with five abstentions (Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar). The tribunal will be set up under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals with threats to international peace. The decision was criticised by Russia, and not surprisingly by Syria, for being a violation of Lebanese sovereignty. In addition, the Syrian government said that any Syrian suspects would be tried in Syria and that Syria would not hand over any Syrian suspects to the tribunal. Other critics argued that the decision will only lead to further unrest and now is not the time for the Security Council to get involved with the current situation in Lebanon being rather fragile. The proponents of the decision argued that the Security Council merely responds to requests for help from the Lebanese authorities as well as pointing to the seriousness of the crime.

The tribunal will be “of international character” and comes into force on June 10th. However, the formal setup of the tribunal, including its location, is yet to be agreed to. Provided the tribunal get off ground, it could take some time before all technicalities are dealt with, it is a welcomed opportunity to secure prosecution of suspects in a crime that deserves all the denunciation it can get. Hopefully it could lead to a more secure and stable Lebanon.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lecture on Legacy of the Slave Trade at University of Aberdeen

One of the world’s leading scholars in African and African American Studies will give a keynote lecture in Aberdeen today on the legacies of the Atlantic slave trade. Between 1600 and 1800, around 12 million men, women and children were transported from Africa to produce crops on plantations in America and the Caribbean. Millions suffered and died under conditions of unimaginable humiliation and brutality.

But following the work of anti-slavery campaigners in the UK – including Aberdeen philosopher James Beattie and Fraserburgh-born clergyman James Ramsay – the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on March 25, 1807. A series of events have already been held in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the Act, which saw the beginning of the end of legal slavery of Africans in British colonies.

Now, on Monday, May 28 Emmanuel Akyeampong, Professor of History of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, will reflect on the legacy of the slave trade at a symposium being held at the University of Aberdeen. The title of his lecture is ‘’The Legacies of Slavery and the Slave Trade: Africa and its Diaspora in the 21st Century’’. The symposium will include additional contributions from Professor Andrew Walls, a leading authority on African Christianity, and noted North-east historian, Professor Roy Bridges.

The event has been organised by a Bicentenary committee comprising representatives from Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, the University of Aberdeen, The Robert Gordon University, and the African and African-Caribbean community. All are welcome.

Justice coming Libya’s way?

In the weekend it was announced that a Libyan court dismissed defamation cases brought against the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who are being held in a Libyan prison after being accused and sentenced for deliberately having infected more than 400 children with HIV virus while working in a hospital in Benghazi, Libya.

The six were arrested in 1999 and sentenced to death in 2004 for the alleged crimes and are now awaiting the outcome of their final appeal. The current case stems from comments made by the six medics claiming that their confessions had been obtained through the use of torture. The six say that they had been mistreated by several officials and named one police officer and a doctor among their torturers. The police officer and doctor later sued the six medicals for libel but the case was thrown out by the court.

Although Libya has in the last couple of years shown intentions to “normalise” its policies and approached the West, the shameful treatment of the six medics leaves a lot to be desired for. An independent report carried out by Luc Montagnier (a French scientist who helped discovering HIV) cleared the six of any wrongdoing and instead laid the blame on poor hospital hygiene – as did two other independent reports all commissioned by the Libyan government. However, it appears that the six medics were chosen as easy foreign targets to cover for blatant shortcomings in the Libyan health service. It has even been argued that the city of Benghazi, traditionally a stronghold for political opponents of Muammar Qaddafi, was targeted by the leader through the withholding of medical supplies.

While European governments apparently have been attempting to secure the release of the six behind the scenes, as well as accepting some of the infected children for treatment in Europe, it can only be hoped that this recent ruling proves a precursor for the final appeal and justice will be done.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Further US Opposition to Tackling Climate Change

With the forthcoming G8 summit (to be held from 6th to 8th June) getting closer, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairing the summit, is vehemently trying to broker consensus around an international deal on climate change to replace the current Kyoto regime when it runs out in 2012.

Not surprisingly perhaps the Bush administration is proving difficult to persuade. The US administration roundly rejected the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it would cost American jobs and excludes developing countries. So far, the stance in the US to climate change, with the exception of the likes of California and in spite of strong interest form American businesses to adopt some form of regulation that can provide certainty, has been one of adapting rather than regulating. This is in spite of the US being responsible for roughly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gasses.

A draft agreement sketched by the German government, aiming at lowering emission of greenhouse gasses 50 per cent by 2050, has so far been endorsed by the European members of the G8 and Japan. The US opposition has apparently left the European governments furious as the main emitter of greenhouse gasses continues to rebuff any attempt to strike international consensus on a topic that is high on the political agenda in Europe. Although the US opposition is, on some accounts, understandable - China is expected to overtake the US as the World’s number one greenhouse gas emitter in a year or two - it follows recent events that might indicate a change in the perception of climate change in the US. Such events include the recent Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA (where it was ruled that the EPA has the authority and obligation to deal with emission of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act), the setting up of a panel to study climate change by the Congress in March this year and a number of regional initiatives to tackle climate change in California and New York.

Although fresh statistics show that emission fell in the US in 2006, whereas it increased in Europe, US support for any international agreement aiming at lowering emission is paramount. Not only is it vital to have the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses on board but it would also lend credibility to the agreement (and perhaps to President Bush as well for those who care) as well as making it easier to persuade countries like China and India to be part of the agreement. In the meantime, it is perhaps of some comfort that any decision by the US administration on the topic will come under scrutiny by the Democratic congress where concerns for the environment at least appears to be higher on the agenda.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ICC Prosecutor Opens Investigation in the Central African Republic

Following to what Derek wrote on Central African Republic in his last post, the Prosecutor of International Criminal Court just today announced the decision to open an investigation concerning crimes committed in the Central African Republic. This is what he had to say earlier today:

“My Office has carefully reviewed information from a range of sources. We believe that grave crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed in the Central African Republic. We will conduct our own independent investigation, gather evidence, and prosecute the individuals who are most responsible.”

The opening of investigation is primarily based on alleged crimes against humanity committed against women, which occurred in the context of an armed conflict between the government and rebel forces in the Central African Republic. According to the ICC Prosecutor, the alleged sexual crimes against civilians first timed far outnumber alleged killings of civilians.

»The Office has analysed allegations of serious crimes perpetrated in CAR, in particular during the armed conflict of 2002-03. Some of the worst allegations relating to killing, looting and rape, occurred during intense fighting in October ­November 2002 and in February/March 2003. Attacks against civilians followed a failed coup attempt; there emerged a pattern of massive rapes and other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by armed individuals. Sexual violence appears to have been a central feature of the conflict.

A distinctive feature of the CAR situation is this high reported number of victims of rape­ at least 600 victims identified in a very short period of 5 months. The real numbers are likely higher as such acts are customarily underreported.

Credible reports indicate that rape has been committed against civilians, including instances of rape of elderly women, young girls and men. There were often aggravating aspects of cruelty such as rapes committed by multiple perpetrators, in front of third persons, with sometimes relatives forced to participate. The social impact appears devastating, with many victims stigmatized and, reportedly for a number of them, infected with the HIV virus.

The Prosecutor determined that, according to all the information available to the OTP, the alleged crimes, notably killings and large scale sexual crimes, were of sufficient gravity to warrant an investigation.

The crimes appear to have been largely committed in and around the capital city of Bangui, but also occurred in areas considerably beyond the capital.«

It would be interesting to know what role has France played in the civil war in Central African Republic, and for that matter in any of Great Lakes countries and whether any of the crimes committed in CAR can be indirectly or directly ascribed to the activities of French paramilitary forces. ICC’s decision remains salient on that aspect of the issues. It is clear that conflict in CAR was hardly virgin from any foreign involvement. Libyan troops and different rebel groups from neighboring DR of Congo were instrumental in the conflict. Maybe over suspicious but where is smoke there must be also fire. It appears highly unlikely that all the conflicts and civil wars in Central Africa (from DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Chad, to Central African Republic) were orchestrated by respective African nations and tribes. Center of African continent is extremely rich in any kind of natural resources. Where there is a slightest possibility to easily gain profit on African territory, there always foreign (European) individuals and corporation ready to assist developing nation in their quest for progress.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The French "African Cell" and a Eurocentric UN?

Last week the Wall Street Journal($) ran an interesting article by David Gauthier-Villars on French involvement in Africa via its secretive African Cell. French paratroopers ambushed rebels, but the French people and press weren't told about it until weeks after the fact. Here's the relevant excerpt:

On the evening of March 4, 10 French paratroopers reached Birao, Central African Republic, and dropped near an airstrip captured by rebel militia. The paratroopers ambushed the rebels, killing several and reclaiming the airport for the government.

In France, neither the public nor parliament was informed of the attack for three weeks. Coordinating the mission was the "Cellule Africaine," a three-person office nestled behind the Elysée, France's presidential palace. This wasn't the first time the office has been involved in the Central African Republic's internal affairs: In 1979, France toppled the former colony's self-proclaimed emperor and reinstalled his predecessor.

For the past half-century, the secretive and powerful "African Cell" has overseen France's strategic interests in Africa, holding sway over a wide swath of former French colonies. Acting as a general command, the Cell uses France's military as a hammer to install leaders it deems friendly to French interests. In return, these countries give French industries first crack at their oil and other natural resources. Sidestepping traditional diplomatic channels, the Cell reports only to one person: the president.

But with France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy preparing to assume office later today, the African Cell's days may be numbered. There are accusations the French military bears some responsibility for the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, charges the government strenuously denies. There's fierce debate over the French military's continuing presence in the Ivory Coast, where soldiers were dispatched in 2002 when rebels threatened to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo.

This kind of secretive involvement may reveal some shortcomings with the current set up of the United Nations. One of the bloggers over at the Belmont argues it highlights Europe's trouble letting go if its colonial ambitions from the past century. “With the Cold War seemingly over and the goals of the postwar U.N. substantially achieved,” Wretchard argues that “it may be reasonable to ask whether the world needs international institutions and diplomatic arrangements better suited to addressing the problems of the Third World, whose ferment is most currently manifested in terrorism. Europe has already gotten its money’s worth out of international institutions and American protection. The 21st century may be the time to refocus on cleaning up the terrible legacy that European empires – including the Marxist empire – have left on the planet for so many decades.” He even goes so far as to argue President Truman made an error in allowing the UN to be primarily aimed at protecting Europe. Further pushing the argument, Wretchard argues "Many of today's terrorist movements are rooted in the geopolitical time bombs sophisticated Europe left planted all over the world in the last century. Colonial Africa may be the least malevolent. But the crazy map of the Middle East, the artificial country of Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to name a few, were explosive situations that were left ticking at the end of World War 2, when the Old Continent made a show of retiring from history, leaving the EOD clearance to an eager and somewhat feckless United States."

Was the UN was set up primarily to protect Europe from another World War? Perhaps, and if so that effort has been successful; but the UN or another multinational body needs to step in to help the developing world in Africa, Asia, and South America. Whether that needs to be the UN or a league of democracies, I think we can agree that the current situation does little to help the cause of the developing world. I think the failure of the UN to act in Darfur, and the election of Zimbabwe to a symbolically important position on sustainable development only weakens the standing of the UN, especially in a climate in which the US has been downright unsupportive of much of the UN's efforts.

Of course France isn't the only powerful nation to undertake secretive missions in the developing world in recent years. But the troubling aspect is that countries like France, which purport to have eschewed their colonial ambitions continue to meddle in the developing world by supporting rebel groups and dictatorships. If nothing else, the travails of the US military in both Iraq and Afghanistan show how organized guerilla groups are able to fight toe to toe with a superpower. A more effective "national security strategy" should aim to help these nations develop, to prevent radical and violent elements. Perhaps Sarkozy will be able to eliminate these French ambitions, but if nothing else, the last century has taught us that these ambitions are a hard habit to break.

Comments on the Legal Research Society

How well did the events and presentations go this year? I suspect we may want to limit ourselves to just conducting research presentations and maybe a discussion or two per term. Social events or other activities may be more than people are interested in or want to take on. Please comment on what you liked or didn't like about the society in the comments section.

Research Presentation Next Week

May 29th at 17.00 in room C11 Taylor Building, Justin Borg Barthet will present his research in a presentation titled "Theories of the Firm and connecting factors". Here is an abstract.

Theories regarding the determination of the governing law of corporations can broadly be traced to two schools of thought. On the one hand, the incorporation theory is based on the contractual paradigm. In this construct, the principal feature that should determine the governing law is the freely expressed will of the shareholders. The real seat theory, on the other hand, takes the view that the corporation, as a fiction of national law, is inextricably linked to the State of its management centre, and that it is only this State that could determine the existence and scope of its legal personality.

Corporate law theorists have long debated the nature and purpose of the firm. The fundamental question of the extent to which the will of shareholders should be curtailed by the interests of other stakeholders in the firm remains unresolved in corporate governance theory. However, this has not translated into a deep and sustained analysis in the conflict of corporate laws camp. Proponents of the incorporation theory readily assume that the contractual liberty of shareholders trumps all other considerations, while proponents of the real seat theory are often equally dogmatic in their State-centric assumptions. Notwithstanding that both schools of thought make fundamental assumptions about the nature of the firm, the myriad relationships arising from the employment of the corporate form are not subjected to sufficient sustained scrutiny in the context of connecting factors in the conflict of corporate laws.

In this paper, an analysis of the policies adopted in a number of States will demonstrate that there is a clear nexus between corporate policy and conflicts theory. There is ample doctrinal and regulatory evidence to support the view that the nature of the firm is an essential feature of conflicts theory. This is also evidenced through the safeguards that are built into conflicts rules in States that adhere to the incorporation theory. In the final analysis, by accident rather than by design, the real seat theory is better placed to take the full spectrum of the firm’s relationships into account.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nixon v. Bush

Today’s New York Times holds a short but very interesting article, by Jules Witcover, on the comparison between Presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

Although the correspondent notes he is not in a position to assess whether Bush is a candidate for the worst president in time, he has a number of good points on the comparison between Nixon, widely thought of as a strong contester for the worst president in recent times, and the incumbent Bush. He notes, for instance,

“Like Nixon in 1972 winning re-election by feeding off unrest and violence in the streets, Bush in 2004 tapped into post-9/11 fears and appeals to patriotism to gain a second term. Although there is not yet any domestic scandal of Watergate dimensions hanging over him, an odor of incompetence in the management of the war, in the care provided to returning wounded, and in the disarray of his Justice Department stifles the atmosphere for his remaining time in the White House.”

The article concludes that while Nixon’s fall from grace mainly was a result of domestic problems (overshadowing some notable foreign policy achievements), the problems facing Bush stem from what turned out to be bad politics abroad.

While judgement of Bush’s presidency is best reserved for when he has gone, comparisons like this always bode for exciting reading and many more are likely to come in the run-up to the next US presidential election.

Check out the story for yourself at


The NY Times makes its select content available to all academics and students. To register for this free service (which you need to access the post) click here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Sustainability of Zimbabwe

Following last week’s debate on McCain’s proposal for a “League of Democracies”, the UN, and as earlier argued its member states, are doing a good job inviting criticism.

This week it was confirmed that Zimbabwe has been elected to chair the UN’s Commission for Sustainable Development. The decision followed a vote granting the go-ahead to Zimbabwe’s chairmanship with the slightest of margins - 26 to 21 (with three abstentions). The chair of the Commission usually rotates between the world’s regions and the decision was supported mainly by the African nations. The decision was swiftly greeted with criticism from both European and US diplomats. Although the decisions to award the chair to Zimbabwe followed all procedures and was perfectly democratic, it raises a number of issues.

First and foremost, the blatant human rights violations taking place in Zimbabwe ought to deter any support for Zimbabwe from other member states. This is regardless of the chair being for the Commission for sustainable development and not dealing with human rights. Secondly, the concept of sustainable development encompasses not only concerns for the environment, but also concerns for economic development as well as matters of equity. In a time where African nations, and developing countries in general, emphasise their right to economic development above a need for environmental protection, Zimbabwe’s record on economic development is worth questioning. With a hyperinflation running at thousands per cent a year and with a dependence on outside food aid, the former ‘breadbasket’ of Africa hardly looks a role model for economic development. Thirdly, the dubious ways Zimbabwean authorities have gone about the re-distribution of land as part of a much-needed land reform, do nothing to inspire praise. Fourthly, the support for Zimbabwe from its African neighbours raises the question of political progress in Africa in general . Why is it that African nations choose to gather around Zimbabwe when other alternatives seem more appropriate? Finally, and perhaps more pragmatically, numerous of Zimbabwean diplomats and representatives are subject to travel bans and can therefore not enter, for instance, the EU. This will represent Zimbabwe and the UN with an interesting problem.

Although the role of developing countries are not only welcomed but also much needed when it comes to international policymaking, and is in the spirit of the UN, the appointment of Zimbabwe as chair for the Commission for Sustainable Development looks to do the UN’ s reputation, its member states and the cause of sustainable development few favours.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Workshop on Scottish Independence

We have witnessed the recent elections, and the troublesome consequences that a closely divided electorate can produce in a voting system. Fortunately the upcoming workshop on Scottish independence organized by PhD candidate Jernej Letnar Cernic and Professor Carty should shed some light on the debates on independence and devolution which are likely to ensue. Here is a summary of the workshop:

On 12 May 2007 the University of Aberdeen School of Law, Scotland will hold a workshop on the legal impact of a referendum on Scottish Independence.
The issues discussed will be both a matter of comparative constitutional law and international law. We want to keep the questions for debate as open as possible, but they should at least cover the following issues. Is it, as a matter of public law , enough to justify a regional Parliament negotiating with the National Government for independence, that there is a majority of pro-independence members in the regional Parliament, or does the regional Parliament still have to hold a referendum on the specific question of independence? The Liberals, rather unexpectedly, are now arguing the former. It has been more usual to require that the people be consulted directly on a matter of major constitutional importance. The conference will look at recent international practice in various countries and have specific, very high expertise from Spain (Catalunia, the Basque Country) and Canada ( An Anglo-Canadian and two differing Quebec opinions).

What if the Scottish people, through an advisory referendum, authorise negotiations for independence, or some such thing as a new relationship or partnership, and the Westminster Government refuses to negotiate? Does a regional or devolved Parliament have a right in international law simply to declare independence in a democratic society such as the UK , where there is full Scottish participation in the political process of the UK as whole and there are no significant human rights violations or discrimination against the Scots? The usual international law answer, following UN practice, is not clear. Some recent Eastern European practice would suggest the affirmative. The lessons from Spain are not so positive. However, the Quebec experience, particular a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada, would suggest that a failure of Westminster to negotiate in good faith would justify an independence declaration.

The workshop is intended to explore and debate these issues in an objective and dispassionate manner. It hopes to add a comparative perspective which liberates the Scottish debate from the rather authoritarian and negative discussion of the issue of a referendum for Scotland that has been conducted up till now within the confines of the UK , within Scotland and England .

Venue: Macrobert Building, room 613, 12 May 2007, 10am - 530pm.

You can a find programme for the workshop at

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

McCain, Law Day, and a "League of Democracies"

Over at Opinio Juris, Julian Ku points out a very interesting idea John McCain discussed yesterday about a "League of Democracies":

We should go further and start bringing democratic peoples and nations from around the world into one common organization, a worldwide League of Democracies. This would not be like the universal-membership and failed League of Nations' of Woodrow Wilson but much more like what Theodore Roosevelt envisioned: like-minded nations working together in the cause of peace. The new League of Democracies would form the core of an international order of peace based on freedom. It could act where the UN fails to act, to relieve human suffering in places like Darfur. It could join to fight the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and fashion better policies to confront the crisis of our environment. It could provide unimpeded market access to t hose who share the values of economic and political freedom, an advantage no state-based system could attain. It could bring concerted pressure to bear on tyrants in Burma or Zimbabwe, with or without Moscow's and Beijing's approval. It could unite to impose sanctions on Iran and thwart its nuclear ambitions. It could provide support to struggling democracies in Ukraine and Serbia and help countries like Thailand back on the path to democracy.

This League of Democracies would not supplant the United Nations or other international organizations. It would complement them. But it would be the one organization where the world's democracies could come together to discuss problems and solutions on the basis of shared principles and a common vision of the future.

It seems the new league would work without the blessing of the UN, which I think might be a very good thing. There are just too many unhelpful aspects in the way the UN is structured. It would allow humanitarian intervention without the blessing of totalitarian states or China and Russia on the Security Council. In any event, this is an exciting idea, and one which has been endorsed by Anne Marie Slaughter and John Ikenberry, both of Princeton. This is a really interesting and fresh policy idea, and the kind of thing which makes John McCain such an exciting candidate (and please, no knee-jerk reactions just because he is a Republican candidate).

It's no coincidence either that he delivered the speech on May Day, or what has also been called law day. For an interesting discussion on law day, and the way international law gained traction as a response to the threat of communism, there was an interesting editorial in the New York Times yesterday. Here's an excerpt:

President Dwight Eisenhower established May 1 as Law Day to co-opt the biggest day on the socialist calendar. While much of the world marked May Day with critiques of capitalism and parades celebrating working men and women, the United States would honor, President Eisenhower declared, the “national dedication to the principle of government under laws.”

Despite its propagandistic beginnings, a day set aside to honor the rule of law was not a bad idea. On the first Law Day, in 1958, Gov. Averell Harriman of New York attacked Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas for blocking integration. His fight to keep black children out of the Little Rock Central High School “offends the concept of law on which our society is based,” Harriman insisted.

Law Day proved to be a boon to international law, which was seen during the cold war as a check on communism. In his proclamation creating the holiday, Eisenhower emphasized law’s role “in the settlement of international disputes.” On Law Day 1959, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, grandfather of the current president, urged, remarkably, that international conflicts be settled by the World Court.

While the Soviet threat loomed, Law Day attracted a sizable following. In 1961, a headline in The Times reported, “100,000 Law Day Celebrations Take Place Throughout Nation.” But as the cold war waned, so did Law Day. It is marked today most notably by the American Bar Association, and it is perilously close to becoming a celebration of lawyers.

There's nothing wrong with a celebration of lawyers in my view. In all seriousness though, I'm intrigued by McCain's idea on a League of Democracies, and I hope we hear more of these ideas from him and less Beach Boy renditions.

Aberdeen at the Supreme Court of Canada

The Honourable Bertha Wilson, formerly a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, passed away in Ottawa on April 28, 2007 after a prolonged illness. Justice Wilson attended the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and graduated with an M.A. in 1944. She continued her education at the Training College for Teachers in Aberdeen, obtaining her diploma in 1945. She married the Reverend John Wilson in December 1945 and they emigrated to Canada in 1949. In 1955, Bertha Wilson enrolled at Dalhousie University to study law, and in 1957 she completed her LL.B. and was called to the bar of Nova Scotia. In 1959 she was called to the bar of Ontario. She practised law in Toronto with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt for 17 years.

For a full report, read here