Venezuela Refers US Sanctions to ICC for Crimes Against Humanity

By: Henry Schall

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

CARACAS, Venezuela – On February 13, 2020, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela filed a request with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  This request has the purpose of seeking an investigation of United States sanctions against Venezuela, calling the sanctions “crimes against humanity.”

The current crisis in Venezuela is due to economic collapse after President Maduro took power in 2013.  This collapse caused widespread shortages in basic food and supplies causing 4.5 million people to flee. 

Strong opposition parties emerged around Maduro within the National Assembly culminating in the 2018 election, where Maduro was reelected.  This election was widely dismissed as rigged, and fifty other countries recognize the National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the rightful president. 

To pressure Maduro in hopes that he would step down, the United States imposed new sanctions in August 2019.  In a letter to Congress, President Trump wrote that the new sanctions were imposed due to the “continued usurpation of power by Nicolás Maduro and persons affiliated with him, as well as human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens.”

President Trump signed an executive order which declared all property or interests in property owned by the government of Venezuela in the United States as blocked which cannot be used.   The new sanctions bar any transactions with Venezuelan officials whose assets are blocked.  President Trump’s order states, “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.” 

These new sanctions expand pressure on Maduro by targeting his government, but also targeting individuals, companies, and countries doing business with the government.  The United States Security Advisor John Bolton said the new sanction could be imposed on any supporters of the Maduro government, since the sanctions would force countries and companies to choose between doing business with the United States or Venezuela.  Venezuela has long blamed the United States for the current economic crisis, but the sanctions do include exceptions for humanitarian goods, food and medicine.  

In a sixty-page brief, Venezuela referred the situation in accordance with Article 14 of the Rome Statute, declaring that the Unilateral Coercive Measures imposed impose negative impacts on the people in Venezuela.  Venezuela contends these sanctions contravene international law that prevent foreign intervention in internal affairs and have caused an enormous hardship for the people of Venezuela.  The brief further declares these sanctions as crimes against humanity, citing a study by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs which provides statistical evidence that sanctions amount to a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelan Citizens. 

On February 19, 2020, the Presidency of the ICC referred the situation in Venezuela to Pre-Trial Chamber III.  According to the ICC, a State Party referral does not automatically lead to an investigation, but it may speed up opening the investigation.  Now, the Prosecutor must consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice in determining if an investigation should be opened. 

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Annex I to the Prosecution’s Provision of the Supporting Document of the Referral Submitted by the Government of Venezuela – 4 Mar. 2020

International Criminal Court – Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on the referral by Venezuela regarding the situation in its own territory – 17 Feb. 2020

BBC – Venezuela crisis in 300 words – 6 Jan. 2020

BBC – US imposes sweeping sanctions on Venezuelan government – 6 Aug. 2019

Egyptian Authorities Crackdown on Anti-Government Protestors

By: Alexandra Casey

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

CAIRO, Egypt — On September 20, 2019, anti-government protests were held in several Egyptian cities, violating the country’s ban on protesting without a permit. Protesters called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to step down following allegations of government corruption. Egyptian authorities have since detained more than 2,000 people in a government crackdown. This response is significant even in a regime that has long targeted dissenters.

Protestors in Cairo, Egypt. Photo Courtesy of NPR.

According to Amnesty International, authorities have arrested everyone from street protestors to prominent government critics and have accused detainees of breaking the country’s broad anti-terrorism laws, spreading fake news, protesting without a license, and joining an illegal organization. Many of the arrests appear to have no connection to the recent protests. After September 20, al-Sisi moved swiftly to rally support. He organized state backed demonstrations praising his current rule and had authorities set up check points to search all cell phones for signs of government criticism.

Prominent journalist and activist, Esraa Abdelfattah, was reportedly arrested by plain-clothes officers and beaten after refusing to unlock her cell phone. Aaron Boehm, a U.S. citizen who had recently arrived in Egypt for a University of Edinburgh study abroad program, was also detained after police officers stopped him in the street and searched his phone. Upon discovering that Boehm sent articles to his friends about the protests, he was put in a vehicle, blindfolded for about 16 hours and interrogated by authorities. While Boehm did not suffer physical abuse, he reported seeing signs of violence against detainees.

The sheer volume of arrests following the September 20 protests combined with al-Sisi’s meager gestures towards addressing citizens’ economic grievances suggest that while Egypt appears stable, unrest may lie just below the surface. Analysts say that al-Sisi’s promise to reinstate subsidies for staples such as rice and pasta will do little to rectify citizens’ disapproval.

Mass arrests have resulted in overcrowding of detention centers, and allegations of torture and ill treatment in detention centers has received attention from the United Nations Human Rights Office. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has also expressed concerns about significant due process violations.

In a statement to press, OHCHR spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, reminded the Egyptian government that “under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights.”

Shamdasani called for immediate release of those who have been arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights and prompt, effective investigation into the allegations of torture and mistreatment.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – U.N. rights office urges Egypt to free blogger, lawyer, journalist – 18 Oct. 2019

UN News – UN human rights office urges Egypt to immediately release detained protestors – 18 Oct. 2019

NPR – Major Crackdown In Egypt Sweeps Up Activists, Children and At Least 1 U.S. Citizen – 12 Oct. 2019

NY Times – Egypt’s Harsh Crackdown Quashes Protest Movement – 4 Oct. 2019

Reuters – More than 1,100 detained in Egypt after protests: rights monitors – 25 Sept. 2019

Belfast Court Finds Abortion Ban Violates Human Rights Obligations

By: Hannah Gabbard

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

BELFAST, United Kingdom — On October 3, 2019, the High Court in Belfast ruled that the abortion law in Northern Ireland, which banned abortion in all cases except when a mother’s life is at risk, violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). Under the abortion law in Northern Ireland, rape, incest, or a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality (“FFA”) are not grounds for a lawful abortion. 

Sarah Ewart, left, leaves the Belfast High Court. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

In 2013, Sarah Ewart, the applicant, travelled to England to terminate her pregnancy after an ultrasound scan at 20 weeks revealed that Ewart’s baby would either die before or shortly after delivery. Ewart was denied an abortion under the law even though her pregnancy was a case of FFA. Due to the law, Ewart was not allowed to bring the remains of her daughter back into Northern Ireland to allow for an autopsy. Ewart claimed that legislation preventing an abortion in cases of FFA violated domestic, human rights and international law and was incompatible with Article 8 of ECHR which guarantees the right to respect for private life. Additionally, she challenged the Departments of Justice and Heath for failing to implement measures to comply with Article 8 of ECHR.

Ewart brought the case after a United Kingdom Supreme Court judgement in June 2018 found that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was inconsistent with the United Kingdom’s obligations under Article 8 of ECHR. The UK Supreme Court could not attach a declaration of incompatibility to the law because the original applicant, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, was not a “victim” of any unlawful act. In Ewart’s case, Justice Siobhan Keegan followed the ruling from the UK Supreme Court that the law was incompatible with human rights. In following the ruling, Justice Keegan’s judgement concerned whether Ewart had standing and if so, whether declaratory relief would be appropriate. 

Justice Keegan found that Ewart had standing because she had to travel to seek an abortion due to the current law and she is at risk to be affected by the law in the future because of her continued risk to have a baby with FFA. Further submissions to the court are required before Justice Keegan will decide on an appropriate relief. 

Abortion rights are highly contested in Northern Ireland due to the religious influences of the Protestant and Catholic communities. Pressure to ease the abortion restrictions had mounted in Northern Ireland after Ireland voted to end the constitutional ban on abortion in May 2018. 

The implications of this ruling are uncertain in Northern Ireland due to the simultaneous legislation proposed in the British Parliament. In 2017, Northern Ireland’s regional government became decentralized when a power-sharing agreement between Protestant and Catholic political parties failed. In July 2019, United Kingdom legislators voted for the Northern Ireland to decriminalize abortion and extend same-sex marriage if the regional government is not restored by October 21. 

This ruling in Northern Ireland contributes to the larger conversation on abortion rights internationally. In the United States, President Trump introduced international version of the “gag rule”  in 2018 where international health clinics that either provide or refer women to abortion services are no longer permitted to receive US development funding. The restriction of abortion services push women to seek abortion in dangerous settings or, in the case of Sarah Ewart, travel overseas to access an abortion.

While acknowledging the pending legislative action in her judgement, Justice Keegan stated that the prospect of upholding the abortion ban would not “serve any benefit” or “be right to ask another woman to relieve the trauma these events undoubtedly cause.” 

For further information, please see:

BBC – Northern Ireland abortion law found to breach human rights – 3 Oct. 2019

CNN – Northern Ireland abortion law breaches human rights, high court rules – 3 Oct. 2019

Judicial Communications Office – Court Delivers Abortion Legislation Judgement – 3 Oct. 2019

Reuters – Court rules Northern Ireland abortion ban violates UK human rights commitments – 3 Oct. 2019

CNN – Women in Northern Ireland to get access to abortion services in Republic – 15 Nov. 2018