WTF Friday, 7/25/2014

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Wednesday to establish an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israel during its current Gaza offensive. Of the 47 Council members, 29 voted in favor, 1 (the U.S.) against, and 17 abstained.

Gaza vote

UNHRC Gaza votes

Four months ago, I was in the Council chamber as another probe into possible war crimes was debated. Here is the outcome of voting on that resolution, which established an international investigation into alleged abuses at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009:

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

Notice anything?

With the exception of a handful of Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries, almost everyone has flipped their position.

This is interesting (or depressing, depending on how you look at it) because when countries explain their votes, they almost always speak in absolutes. In March, I heard numerous Western countries stress the legal obligation to provide justice for international crimes and the duty of the Council to stand with the victims of human rights abuses. I heard non-Western countries object categorically to “country-specific” resolutions (i.e. initiatives that single out a country for censure or investigation without its consent) and emphasize that the Council must respect sovereign governments and avoid an interventionist approach.

This week, it appeared that none of these positions were particularly deeply held.

*Photos of the vote board are courtesy of the United Nations office at Geneva.

Simmer Down, Y’all

Dear Internets,

Yes, the UN General Assembly’s approval of “non-member observer state” status for Palestine is big news. No, it does not mean that Israeli leaders should be keeping an eye out for ICC investigators.

Palestine’s new status as a sorta-kinda-maybe-state does mean that it can now join the ICC. But, as Mark Goldberg points out, if Palestine tries again to refer the situation to the court, it will be up to Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda first to decide whether to open an investigation, and then whether to issue charges. At either stage, she might decide that the evidence doesn’t support proceeding, or that pursuing a case is not “in the interests of justice” (Rome Statute, Art. 53). That last one gives her broad discretion to decline to proceed, which could be useful cover if, say, she felt that it was not a real swell idea for a young institution in a politically precarious position to piss off the superpower by going after one of its most important allies. You know, hypothetically.

Additionally, the Prosecutor might conclude that she is blocked by Israeli court proceedings covering actions in Palestine (Rome Statute, Art. 19). The ICC’s jurisdiction is complementary, which means it is only empowered to hear cases that the relevant state judicial system(s) are “unwilling or unable” to prosecute. Unlike many of the states who make up the ICC’s current caseload, Israel has a competent and active judiciary that has heard numerous cases arising out of policy towards the Occupied Territories. Determining that past judicial precedent suggests an “unwillingness” to prosecute would require a complicated and messy analysis that ICC is ill-equipped to undertake.

Finally, even if the Prosecutor were willing to proceed, it is not clear what events would be eligible. The ICC’s potential temporal jurisdiction over a state’s territory starts from the day the Rome Statute entered into force for that state. For many states, that’s the day of the court’s birth, July 1, 2002, but for those states that signed the treaty after the court started its work, it’s later.

So if Palestine joined the ICC tomorrow, a straightforward interpretation of the court’s jurisdictional provisions would say that the ICC could only prosecute crimes that take place starting from December 2012. There’s a possible Hail Mary argument invoking the Eichmann precedent that new states have retroactive jurisdiction over crimes against their citizens, but there’s no reason to think that this could be passed on to the ICC. The court only inherits its members’ jurisdiction over crimes committed by their citizens, or on their territory, not crimes committed against their citizens. And extending the ICC’s jurisdiction over Palestine back in time would effectively strip Israel of jurisdiction over a portion of its territory during a time in which it was the uncontested (with regard to formal institutions) sovereign. Additionally, the fact that Palestine’s “stateness” is likely to remain a bit of an open question makes any kind of retroactivity more of a stretch.

So there.

[Late-breaking news: Kevin Jon Heller has a new post up at Opinio Juris expounding a very different view. He cites Côte D'Ivoire's April 18, 2003 acceptance of the ICC's jurisdiction back to July 1, 2002 as evidence that states can give the court retroactive jurisdiction. I don't agree that this is relevant precedent; Côte D'Ivoire was the territorial sovereign throughout the entire period, so its retroactive acceptance of jurisdiction raises none of the issues posed by a new state.]

Brave New World


For everyone who’s ever wondered “what do I need Twitter for, anyway”, it turns out that the surprising answer is: “keeping track of sovereign state declarations of war.”

No, really. My post-Hurricane Sandy restoration of internet services kicked in just in time to catch the Israeli Defense Forces announcing a major operation against Hamas on Twitter. The IDF accompanied their live-tweeting of “Operation Pillar of Defense” with video posted to YouTube of the initial strike, which killed Hamas military wing commander Ahmed al-Jabari.

Over at Foreign Policy, Uri Friedman reports that the video was briefly blocked this morning, after YouTube users flagged its content as a violation of the site’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit “graphic or gratuitous violence.” Users of Twitter have also raised the possibility that some of the IDF’s tweets (like this one) might constitute “specific threats of violence” in violation of the site’s regulations. But the video is back up, and meanwhile, the IDF has kept up a steady stream of tweets and announced Spanish and French language Twitter and Facebook pages, as they battle it out with #GazaUnderAttack for the world’s sympathy.

Direct appeals by political actors to the online court of global public opinion are not unprecedented (see, e.g., Kenya Defense Forces vs. Al-Shabaab, Twitter Edition), but this may be something new. The IDF’s initial Twitter posts preceded by several hours the government press conference announcing the operation. That means that a sovereign state chose to communicate a major policy development via online, privately owned platforms (with content restrictions!), rather than through official channels.

That rustling you hear is the sound of thousands of “International Relations in the 21st Century” syllabi being updated…

WTF Friday, 7/15/11

In non-coltan/Congo/rape related telephone news, South Sudan will have 211 as its international dialing code, which also happens to be police “hundred code” for robbery in the great state of California. (A tenuous connection, get it?).

Shout out to Thomas E. Ricks for shouting out the Karzai family restaurant in Baltimore (I’ve eaten there too!). Negative points for linking to this. The Wire + John Waters ≠ Baltimore, guys. I guess the Karzai family restaurant isn’t exactly a fantastic claim to fame, though…

Puns, cursing, and democracy. This one’s got it all!

WTF Friday, 10/22/10

In “creepy as shit” news, a life-size sculpture of comatose Ariel Sharon has premiered at the Kishon Art Gallery in Tel-Aviv, complete with open eyes and (somehow) the appearance of breathing. Truly disturbing stuff…

The “Rolling Stone” newspaper (no relation) of Uganda has published the names and addresses of gay and lesbian Ugandans, encouraging readers to, no exaggeration, “hang them.” At least four people have been attacked so far. How unbelievably shitty.

Former President of Botswana and chairperson of the Champions for an HIV Free Generation , Festus Mogae, has spoken out against the possible criminalization of HIV infection in Zambia. Great now let’s try not to invoke homosexuality in this con…well, I tried…

"A selfish desire for equality": Israeli Police Arrest Woman For Wearing a Tallit and Reading From the Torah at the Western Wall

This shit makes me glad to have Birthright Virginia, not just Birthright Israel. From Haaretz:

“Police on Wednesday arrested a woman who was praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, due to the fact that she was wrapped in a prayer shawl (tallit).

The woman was visiting the site with the religious women’s group “Women of the Wall” to take part in the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer.

Police said they arrested the woman in the wake of a High Court ruling, which states that the public visiting the Western Wall is obligated to dress in accordance with the site’s dress code.”

According to Israel’s conservative rabbis, the real problem here is that uppity women don’t know their place.

“Last week Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Shas party’s spiritual leader, said during his weekly sermon that the women in the feminist movement are “stupid” and act the way they do out of a selfish desire for equality, not “for heavens’ sake.”

Rabbi Ovadia also said about the groups’ custom to pray at the Western Wall that “there are stupid women who come to the Western Wall, put on a tallit (prayer shawl), and pray,” and added that they should be condemned.”

Gee, aren’t the Jews lucky to have their own state? I don’t know about you, but as a woman who has more than once wrapped myself in a prayer shawl and read from the Torah in public, without getting even a little bit arrested for it, I sure am reassured to know that the Land of Israel is there to protect us Chosen People if the going should get rough.

Or maybe that’s just my “selfish desire for equality” speaking.

hat tip: Goldblog.

Iranian Speechwriting: Making Magic Real

Uhh, Mahmoud? I know that you must be very excited about your newfound “World’s Favorite Bonkers Bearded Agent O’Evil” status now that Castro has resigned.

But we still have standards. And when you referred to Israel as a “filthy bacteria,” it just wasn’t good enough. First of all: the proper singular form is “filthy bacterium.

And come on, really? Bacteria? What is this, National Awkward Cliche week? I can only assume that your speechwriting process goes something like this:

“Speechwriter 1: I’m really struggling with this next line. Israel is a …. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but it’s just not coming to me. Jerkface? Bepimpled smutmonster?

Speechwriter 2: We used bepimpled smutmonster last week. C’mon, be creative.

Speechwriter 1: Zionist pigdog?

Speechwriter 2: Used. It.

Speechwriter 1: Got it! “Israel is cooties!”

Speechwriter 2: OMG love it. But don’t you think it needs a little extra something? He IS a professor, you know. Lets make it sciencey. Crowds love science!

Speechwriter 1: I’m thinking….bubbling beakers, Our Great Leader in a spotless white coat, maybe a Periodic Table of Zionist Atrocity. Lets call Bill Nye’s people, see if he’s available. I can see the headlines now: Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, savior of the Middle East, says that “Israel is an AMALGAM”

Speechwriter 2: You want to accuse Israel of being an alloy of metals?

Speechwriter 1: “Israel is a PRECIPITATE”

Speechwriter 2: it is a silty solid that forms spontaneously during a chemical reaction and separates out from the other materials? WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT PUTTING REALITY IN THE SPEECHES?

Speechwriter 1: Sorry. OMG Sorry! Please do not cut my ears off! Israel is…uh……a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis! a lipoma!

Speechwriter 2: Don’t worry. Ears are largely decorative.

Speechwriter 1: Got it! Israel is a bacteria!

Speechwriter 2: Hmm. “Israel is a bacteria.” Could work….call props to find out if the “Listerine of Allah” costume is available. Lets make this happen.”

Look, Mahmoud, just a suggestion: maybe if you laid off the ear-chopping, you’d get better material.

I’m just saying.