Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Wake Up World! Boko Haram is Here to Stay!

Annielle Makon

Although Boko Haram (translated means “western education is a sin”) has been functi since 2002, until recently it did not have international name recognition.  Boko Haram is considered a terrorist, militant, and Islamic group, based in northeast Nigeria, but they also carry out activities in neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. [1] Boko Haram, led by Abubakar Shekau, has been linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS.[2] They have caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country through a wave of bombings, assassinations and abductions, they are fighting to overthrow the government and create a pure Islamic state rule by sharia law.[3]  They have been labeled as a terrorist organization by several countries (including the United States), yet that is as far as the international community has gone in dealing with their actions (aside from the infamous #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign). Boko Haram acts with impunity. As they continue to gain notoriety, Nigeria and the international community need to start paying attention to them, hold them accountable for their actions, and resolveto prevent any future attacks from Boko Haram.

Boko Haram

Between July 2009 and June 2014, Boko Haram has killed over 5,000 civilians. [4]  Since 2009 Boko Haram have abducted more than 500 men, women and children, famously, including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014.[5] Their most horrific act was the massacre of 2,000 civilians in January 2015.[6] Most of the victims were women, children and elderly people who could not escape after fighters drove into the town firing rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons at local residents.[7] Corruption in the security services and human rights abuses committed by the terrorist group have hampered efforts to counter the unrest.[8] 650,000 people had fled the conflict zone by August 2014, an increase of 200,000 since May; by the end of the year 1.5 million had fled.[9] Yet, Nigeria and the international community have failed to actively thwart Boko Haram efforts.

Should the World Care? Yes, absolutely!

Boko Haram Pie Chart

Boko Haram’s latest attack is part of a growing trend. Violence has drastically increased since 2009.[10] The number of deaths is rising year to year and that is an indication that the threat is growing in a relatively short time span. Boko Haram has killed as many people as the Islamic State.[11] The United States has made active strides to thwart ISIS because they pose a threat to the United States interest abroad and attempting to avoid another Middle Eastern conflict.[12] Yet, nothing has been done about Boko Haram. The violence is increasing because they have been left unattended to wreck havoc in Nigeria. Nigeria’s government is unable to combat Boko Haram alone. Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in 2013 and, even after the state of emergency, Boko Haram attacked several military bases, bombed a busy bus terminal in the capital, Abuja (twice), and launched the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok.[13] Nigeria military lacks the modern equipment, training and motivation to sufficiently fight Boko Haram.[14]

As long as the world views Boko Haram as simply Nigeria’s problem, nothing will prevent them from committing more terrorist acts.  Many believe that Boko Haram is focus on Nigeria, with no interest in attacking the West.[15] However, the danger of this belief is that there is no guarantee that they will be satisfied with just turning Nigeria into a pure Islamic state.  What will the world do when Boko Haram is no longer isolated in Nigeria?

Boko Haram Attacks Graph

What Can or Should Be Done?

First, and foremost, reform needs to start within Nigeria.  President Goodluck Jonathan needs to focus on the issue of security and increase funds for the military to adequately train and equip these forces to combat Boko Haram.  Additionally, there needs to more effective allocation of national funds to the areas targeted by Boko Harm. Furthermore, the Nigerian government needs better intelligence gathering resources so that they can better prevent Boko Haram’s attacks. Most importantly, Nigeria needs to request and accept assistance from the international community. The United States has agreed to help combat Boko Haram by providing military and intelligence assistance.[16] France, too, can play role in pressuring neighboring Cameroon, Niger, and Chad to ramp up information sharing and cooperation through the Multinational Joint Task Force.[17] The Nigerian government needs to put the priority of its citizens ahead of its own need to portray itself as a regional power of West Africa in order to combat Boko Haram.

Annielle Makon is a third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. Candidate (’15). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. While studying Political Science, Annielle developed a passion for human rights and international relations. In addition to being a CICL Student Fellow, Annielle is an Associate Editor on the Journal of International Law. Annielle also interns at Amnesty International in the Sub-Saharan Africa unit.

[1] Andrew Walker, What is Boko Haram?, United States Institute of Peace (March 30, 2012),  http://www.usip.org/publications/what-boko-haram.

[2] Id.

[3] Farouk Chothia, Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists? BBC News Africa (January 21, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13809501.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Sophia Kleeman, One Chart Shows Why the World Should Care About Boko Haram, WorldMic  (January 13, 2015), http://mic.com/articles/108328/one-chart-shows-why-the-world-should-care-about-boko-haram?utm_source=policymicTWTR&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Chothia, supra note 5.

[14] Chothia, supra note 5.

[15] Walker, supra note 1.

[16] Jason Warner & Jacob Zenn,  After kidnappings, Nigeria must step up, The Boston Globe (May 15, 2014), http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/05/15/boko-haram-kidnappings-nigeria-must-step/p69X3KAaGqTVpX4WnKMr2K/story.html.

[17] Id.

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Does the Paris Climate Summit have the Potential for a Real Response to Climate Change?

Natalie Krajinovic

In sum, yes. The Geneva Climate Conference in February 2015 saw the Member States of the United Nations aim to achieve positive environmental policy change. The Conference saw the UN make major headway with a formal draft agreement that would be the source of negotiation for the 2015 Paris Summit.[1] The formal draft agreement is a substantive step following general affirmations of climate reform policy made at the 2014 UN Climate Summit.[2] The UN seems poised to strengthen the world’s attention on environmental matters with this draft agreement. The draft agreement builds upon negotiations that occurred during the 2014 Lima Climate Change Conference. The final agreement, which includes a focus on “mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity-building,” is set to be reached in Paris at the end of 2015 and should come into effect in 2020.[3] What makes these environmental initiatives distinct from the UN’s past attempts at an environmental framework is the collective interest in reaching emission level reductions.

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The draft agreement currently states that the parties are “[g]ravely concerned by the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] finding in its Fifth Assessment Report that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”[4] This clear statement regarding the severity of the state of climate change demonstrates the UN’s seriousness in combating drastic environmental change. The draft agreement also states that the parties recognize “that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties.”[5] It is evident that even though the parties are still in negotiation stages, the occurrence of climate change is no longer debatable, and instead, is a reality that the international community must now confront.

Between March and June of this year, individual countries will articulate their emission reduction plans.[6] Once individual countries outline their targeted plans and efforts for emission reduction, the viability of the current draft agreement will be evaluated. Through this formal draft agreement, the hope is that the increase of the average global surface temperature is no more than 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, to avoid dangerous climate change.[7] These aggressive targets mean that individual states must act nimbly with their individual responses to climate change. It is insufficient to rest upon general obligations of emissions reductions. Rather, now is the opportunity for Member States to announce specific and realistic environmental protection action.

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Article 2 of the draft agreement is purported to outline the objective of the convention. The viability of the current draft agreement may be undermined with the repeated language of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” in all three options for Article 2.[8] This emphasis on separate responsibilities based upon a Member State’s independent capabilities suggests that how emission levels will be reduced will not involve uniform action.

Although the agreement is still in the drafting stage, the global community appears to be gaining momentum in combating climate change. The goal is for the formal draft agreement to reach finalized content and text through the year, with negotiations occurring at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn in June, in addition ministerial-level meetings throughout the year.[9] This ongoing work towards a final formal environmental protection convention is promise that the 2015 Paris Summit will result in a viable agreement that unites UN member states in responding to climate change.

Natalie Krajinovic is a University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. candidate (’15), with a concentration in Business Law. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in English and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, St. George. Natalie has always had an interest in international law and policy. While studying at the University of Toronto, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Globalist, an international relations magazine with chapters across the globe. She currently serves as the President of the International Law Society and as the Comments Editor for the Journal of International Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Natalie is also a law clerk for John H. Denick & Associates, P.A., a business law firm in downtown Baltimore and is an intern with International Rights Advocates in Washington, D.C.

[1] UN agrees draft text for Paris climate summit, BBC News (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31456369.

[2] Natalie Krajinovic, The Climate Summit 2014 – The Best of Intentions, But Missed the Mark, Ius Gentium (Sept. 28, 2014), https://ubaltciclfellows.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/climate-summit-missed-the-mark/.

[3] Governments Agree the Negotiating Text for the Paris Climate Agreement, UN Climate Change Newsroom (Feb. 13, 2015), http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/governments-agree-the-negotiating-text-for-the-paris-climate-agreement/.

[4] Negotiating Text, Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, ADP 2-8, Agenda Item 3 (Feb. 12, 2015), http://unfccc.int/files/bodies/awg/application/pdf/negotiating_text_12022015@2200.pdf.

[5] Id.

[6] UN agrees draft text for Paris climate summit, BBC News (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31456369.

[7] Id.

[8] Negotiating Text, Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, ADP 2-8, Agenda Item 3 (Feb. 12, 2015), http://unfccc.int/files/bodies/awg/application/pdf/negotiating_text_12022015@2200.pdf.

[9] Governments Agree the Negotiating Text for the Paris Climate Agreement, UN Climate Change Newsroom (Feb. 13, 2015), http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/governments-agree-the-negotiating-text-for-the-paris-climate-agreement/.


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Houthis’ Rising Power Spears Turbulence in Yemen

Suzanne De Deyne

On January 22, 2015, Yemen’s President, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, resigned shortly after his prime minister and Cabinet stepped down.[1]  The sudden resignation came only one day after Houthis rebels struck a tentative UN brokered deal with President Hadi aiming to halt days of turmoil.[2]  The deal reportedly agreed to a power sharing between the government and, in exchange, Houthis would relinquish control over government facilities seized last September[3]  and would release President Hadi’s chief of staff, whom the rebels kidnapped.[4]  Nevertheless, President Hadi stated he had to resign so as “to avoid being dragged into an abyss of unconstructive policies based on no law…We don’t want to be a party to what is happening or will happen.”[5] This blog will set forth the concerns arising out of Yemen’s change in political leadership, discuss the role of the UN during Yemen’s time of turmoil, and explain how this change in regime to the Houthis directly affects U.S. counterterrorism in the Arabian Peninsula.

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The Houthis adhere to the Zaidism branch of Shia Islam as members of Ansar Allah (Partisans of God).[6]  Their slogan translates to, “Death to America, death to Israel, curses to the Jews and victory to Islam.”[7]  As Shiite Muslims, in a majority Sunni country, Houthis wanted more power and elimination of marginalization.[8]  Under international law, it is true that the people of Yemen have the right to self-determination when denied rights amongst the political spectrum, but claiming authority via a coup d’état is not the proper legal method to convene political rights.  So, as the Houthis dissolved parliament and announced plans for a new interim assembly and five-member presidential council,[9] they claimed more than they bargained for – the responsibility to govern.

Conversely, Sunni and southern leaders will, most likely, not recognize their assertion to power, thus intensifying the country’s descent into chaos.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Yemen to reinstate President Hadi and told Council, “Let me be clear, Yemen is collapsing before our eyes.  We cannot stand by and watch.”[10]  It is the job of the UN Security Council to act in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Action with Respect to the Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) during this time of hostility and take measures to promote peacekeeping. Due to safety concerns, the U.S. even closed the American embassy in Yemen, placing it in similar circles as Syria and Libya where U.S. diplomatic presence has been removed.[11] Similarly, other states have closed their embassies due to security concerns.[12]

Houthi

Yemen is a fractured country on the brink of a civil war and the recent struggle for power also generates opportunity for al-Qaeda to establish a stronger foothold.  For a long time Yemen’s government has been considered a key ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).[13]  Houthis claim to be anti-al-Qaeda and have driven the extremists from the areas they control, but Saleh Ali al-Sammad, second in command for the Houthis rebel group and former advisor to President Hadi, alludes to other conclusions by stating, “We are not against the missions or individuals themselves, but against policies adopted by America.”[14]  A common disdain for American diplomacy means the U.S. lacks a key counterterrorism ally in the region while al-Qaeda’s influence expands.  The effective boost for al-Qaeda was affirmed when al-Qaeda fighters completely captured the Yemeni National Army’s 19th Brigade, an important oil-producing area in southeastern Yemen.[15]  The strategic position of Yemen next to Saudi Arabia, a top oil exporter, and its access to shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden make the stability of the country a U.S. priority.[16]  Also, Saudi Arabia, as the main Sunni power, believes the Houthis are backed militarily, financially and politically by its Shia regional archrival, Iran, although these allegations have been denied.[17]

Houthi Child

The international community, especially the UN, must coordinate a response to Houthis’ newfound control and aim to terminate AQAP’s influence in the Arabian Peninsula.  Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute stated, “Yemen was supposed to be a role model for this smarter approach of building local capacity and getting our allies to do more.  It’s a sobering reality that it’s not working.”[17]  With the Houthis in power, Yemen, a dominant player in an especially geo-strategic location, is now a pro-Iranian, anti-American Shia militia.  The Houthis’ rebellion has not only put Yemen at a political crossroad that concerns the international community, but has now also caused the U.S. to reevaluate its commitment to the poorest country in the Arabian peninsula as al-Qaeda’s infectious presence intensifies.

Suzanne De Deyne is a second year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (candidate for J.D., May 2016) concentrating in International Law. Suzanne graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Economics. She also received a Honor’s International Relations Certificate from Mount Holyoke College.

Currently, Suzanne is a staff editor on the Journal of International Law and represents the International Law Society as the Alumni Relations Director. As a CICL Fellow, Suzanne conducts legal research for International Rights Advocates on human rights and corporate accountability. She is also a member of Phi Alpha Delta and the Women’s Bar Association. This summer she will be a legal intern at Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in the firm’s Brussels office, which is focused on Competition Law practice in Europe.

[1] Nick Paton, Yemen’s President, Cabinet Resign, CNN (Jan. 23, 2015), http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/22/world/yemen-violence/.

[2] Id.

[3] Nadia Prupis, Yemeni President, Cabinet Resign Amid Deal with Rebels, Common Dreams (Jan. 22, 2015), http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/22/yemeni-president-cabinet-resign-amid-deal-rebels.

[4] Nick Paton, supra note 1.

[5] Nadia Prupis, supra note 3.

[6] Yemen Crisis: Who are the Houthis?, BBC News Middle East (Feb. 6, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423.

[7] Bruce Ridel, SOTU: U.S. has Little Leverage to Influence the Outcome in Yemen, Brookings (Jan. 20, 2015), http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2015/01/20-sotu-us-little-leverage-to-influence-outcome-in-yemen-riedel

[8] Nick Paton, supra note 1.

[9] Yemen Crisis: Who are the Houthis?, supra note 6.

[10] Shuaib Almosawa & Rod Nordland, Qaeda Fighters Gain in Yemen as United Nations Warn of Country’s Freefall, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/world/middleeast/al-qaeda-yemen-military.html.

[11] Shuaib Almosawa & Rod Nordland, U.S. Embassy Shuts in Yemen, Even as Militant Leader Reaches Out, N.Y. Times (Feb. 10, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/world/middleeast/yemen-houthi-leader-pledges-to-pursue-power-sharing-accord.html?_r=0.

[12] Japan closes embassy in Yemen over ‘security concerns’, PRESS TV (Feb. 16, 2015) http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/02/16/397791/Japan-closes-diplomatic-mission-in-Yemen

[13] Nick Paton, supra note 1.

[14] Shuaib Almosawa & Rod Nordland, supra note 11.

[15] Shuaib Almosawa & Rod Nordland, supra note 10.

[16] Yemen Crisis: Who are the Houthis?, supra note 6.

[17] Id.

[18] Bruce Ridel, supra note 7.


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The Drones are Coming, the Drones are Coming…

Matthew Matechik 

A man drives his beat up old Toyota truck down a dirt road meandering through sparse terrain. Unbeknownst to him, his every move is being watched. For a brief, almost imperceptibly, short moment he hears a loud noise. A flash! And just like that, the man is instantly dead. His body is disintegrated amidst the rubble that was his truck. A missile fired from an unseen unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or “drone”) has eliminated its target with ruthless efficiency. The strike is the successful culmination of countless hours spent finding the man, confirming his identity, confirming his affiliation, analyzing his movements, considering the legality of a strike, and finally identifying an opportunity that minimizes non-combatant casualties.

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This scene or something like it has played out numerous times during America’s post 9/11 “War on Terror.” Drones target terrorist combatants in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen (where just last week an American drone strike reportedly killed senior al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari[i]).

The drone program has been effective. According to some unconfirmed reports, drone strikes have killed as many as 2,000 combatant terrorists in Pakistan alone and the frequency of strikes has increased dramatically since President Obama entered office.[ii]  The drone has become a proven weapon in the ongoing fight against global terrorism. The US government has asserted that the strikes are legal under international law because they are carried out in self-defense against persons who present a continuing imminent threat and are affiliated with al-Qaida and associated forces with which the US is at war. The US further asserts that the strikes are in accordance with the Geneva Convention because the drone’s advanced technology, most notably its precision, minimizes civilian casualties and collateral damage.[iii]

The UN has criticized the US position as being based on too broad a definition of “imminence,” which must exist in order for self-defense to be legally justified.[iv] The UN critique exposes a potential problem the US has created by setting this precedent. Other nations, perhaps as many as 87 of them, are quickly building or already have their own drone fleets.[v] What will happen when these nations’ drone technology catches up to that of the US? What if those nations are hostile toward the US or its allies? Will they rely on the US understanding of self-defense to likewise justify anonymous killings of persons located outside their territory?

chinese-drones

Consider the Chinese, whose drone capabilities are rapidly catching up to those of the United States.[vi] China could easily apply the American legal argument to justify killing someone they claimed to be a Uighur separatist located in Kazakhstan, for example. What about an ethnic Uighur who happens to be a United States citizen? Could China use the American self-defense argument to justify killing this American? It would appear so as long as China deemed the American to be associated with a fighting force that China is engaged in armed conflict with. Take the logic a few steps further and it quickly becomes clear that any country could feasibly kill persons located abroad using drones by stretching the self-defense argument to suit the needs of the day.

The hypotheticals above are not far fetched. The drones are coming. The drones are coming and currently there is no formalized body of international law to regulate them beyond the general laws of war. We have the American precedent to go on but not much else.

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An international treaty governing the use of combat drones could alleviate concerns of widespread death from above. The drones do not represent the first time that technology has evolved faster than international law. At one time for example, the US was the only nation with nuclear weapons. As other nations gained the same technology, the nuclear-armed nations were able to form international treaties to regulate their use. Even enemies came to the table in the interest of humanity. So far the regulations have, thankfully, worked, at least in the sense that humans have not wiped themselves off the Earth yet. Perhaps a similar spirit of cooperation can inspire international regulation of drone warfare, although success could be difficult to come by given the high number of nations with drones.

The drones are coming. When they do, where will the battlefield be? Who will be targeted in self-defense? Can international law find a way to regulate the situation before it gets out of control? Time will tell. In the meantime, keep your eye on the sky. The drones are coming.

Matthew Matechik is an Evening J.D. student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (Class of 2016). He currently works full-time for the U.S. Federal Government as a Counterterrorism Analyst. He has a Bachelors of Arts (Magna Cum Laude, 2008) from Florida State University. All views in this blog post are Matthew’s own views and do not represent that of the U.S. Government. 

[i] http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/05/world/yemen-violence/index.html

[ii] This number is an estimate. Casualty estimates vary wildly. Official reports are not available. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/drone-strikes-killing-more-civilians-than-us-admits-human-rights-groups-say/2013/10/21/a99cbe78-3a81-11e3-b7ba-503fb5822c3e_story.html

[iii] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125206000; http://jurist.org/forum/2013/10/jordan-paust-drones-justification.php

[iv] http://www.globalresearch.ca/drone-warfare-findings-of-u-n-reports-on-extrajudicial-and-arbitrary-executions/5355601

[v] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/10/skys-the-limit-for-wide-wild-world-of-drones/?page=all

[vi] http://rt.com/news/china-stealth-drone-flight-127/


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Disenfranchisement: A Comparative Look at the Right of the Prisoner to Vote

Ali Rickart

Disenfranchisement, simply put, is “the taking away [of] the right to vote in public elections from a citizen or class of citizens.”[1] Throughout the world, people who have committed crimes that carry the weight of jail time or felony convictions are disposed of their right and ability to freely vote. Different levels of disenfranchisement occur, including 1) only during prison time, 2) during prison and parole, 3) during prison, parole and probation, and 4) prison, parole, probation, and post-sentence (which also has its own variations ranging from only after the second offense, to a 5 year waiting period, or full disenfranchisement after a felony conviction).

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Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is considered customary international law[2], “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity…(b) to vote…”[3] Even the United Nations Human Rights Committee has noted that article 25 of the ICCPR “lies at the core of democratic government based on the consent of the people” and if there must be a restriction on the right to vote, this must only occur in consideration that such restrictions are “objective and reasonable.”[4] The Committee further goes on to say that if a country decides, “conviction for an offence is a basis for suspending the right to vote” the suspension must be “proportionate to the offence and the sentence” and that those persons who may be “deprived of liberty but… not convicted should not be excluded from exercising the right to vote.”[5]

Yet, in the United States alone, 5.85 million are denied the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. Each state has the ability to direct and control the voter rights’ laws that allow for disenfranchisement, intentionally restricting the voter rights of those who have been convicted of felonies, which bars prisoners from voting in both state and federal elections. Out of the fifty states, however, only three states permanently disenfranchise felons – Iowa, Florida and Kentucky, alternatively, two states allow for everyone to vote, despite criminal records – Maine and Vermont.[6]

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In a study conducted of over 45 countries, accounting for the major countries in Europe, North America, Asia, South America, and Australia, almost half of the countries allow for felons to vote despite their prison conviction.[7] The restrictions imposed by countries are vast. For example, the majority of Eastern Europe allows for either full voting rights or impose selective restrictions [Bosnia (selective restrictions), Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Poland (selective restrictions), Romania (selective restrictions), Serbia, Slovenia, and Ukraine]. Other Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, and Russia only have a voting ban on felons during their prison time. The only one that had a full ban on voting rights for felons during prison and post-conviction was Armenia. Given many of these countries human rights records in other areas, this is a surprising right that is guaranteed.

In contrast, the United Kingdom continues to incorporate prisoner disenfranchisement into its laws, despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Hirst v. United Kingdom (No. 2), stating that the blanket ban on prisoner voting was unreasonable.[8] However, the United Kingdom does allow those who are only civil prisoners or on remand un-sentenced to vote. There was a bill introduced in 2012 and put into law in 2014, the Convicted Prisoners Voting Bill that limits the scope of disenfranchisement to those who are serving a custodial sentence.[9]

Other countries that allowed a full vote included Canada, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland. Countries that follow selective restriction on voting rights include Germany (which only takes away rights on rare, court-mandated instances), Iceland (if the felony is for a prison term longer than four years), Australia, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, and Portugal. The only countries that have full disenfranchisement laws for post-conviction felons include Belgium (if a sentence is longer than seven years), Armenia, Chile and in some instances, the United States (on a state-by-state basis).

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Some groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and The Sentencing Project have started movements in places such as the United States, to recognize that all people should have a right to vote under both domestic law and international law as evidenced by the Constitution and treaties such as the ICCPR.

Prison was created not only as a punishment, but also as a way to rehabilitate those who have broken the law. In the case of rehabilitation, we should work towards the idea that we want those who have broken the law to not only learn from their mistakes and move forward but also to one day reintegrate themselves into society as productive citizens. When stripping them of such a simple, inherent right to be a part of the democratic process that governs them, how do we expect them to reach this goal?

Former prisoner in the United Kingdom, Caspar Walsh, writes about how disenfranchisement inhibits the ability of prisoners to rehabilitate and causes a disconnect between those behind bars and politicians creating the laws that control everyone’s lives.[10] The Sentencing Project published a debate over the topic, “Should Ex-felons be Allowed to Vote?” between Roger Clegg and Marc Mauer. Mauer cites an Israeli Supreme Court case, discussing the right of felons to vote because “society must ‘separate contempt for his act from respect for his right’.”[11] With the amount of people in prisons worldwide, the disenfranchised could have serious effects on elections if they were able to freely vote despite their imprisoned status.

To view further debate on whether or not prisoners should be allowed to vote, more information can be found at 1) Duel: Should Prisoners be able to vote? or 2) Why Can’t Felons Vote?[12]

[1] DISENFRANCHISEMENT, Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009)

[2] Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38, para. 1 (defines the customary international law as “general practice accepted as law”); International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force Mar. 23, 1976) (168 countries are parties to the Covenant, evidencing a general practice accepted as law) [hereinafter ICCPR].

[3] ICCPR art. 25.

[4] General Comment Adopted by the Human Rights Committee under Article 40, Paragraph 4, of the ICCPR, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.7, August 27, 1996, Annex V, para. 4 (examples of “objective and reasonable” include setting age limits for voting or denying the right due to established mental incapacity).

[5] Id. at para. 14.

[6] Map of State Criminal Disenfranchisement Laws, ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/maps/map-state-criminal-disfranchisement-laws

[7] International Comparison of Felon Voting Laws, ProCon.org (May 27, 2014), http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=289.

[8] Convicts ‘will not all get vote’, BBC News, Oct. 6, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4315348.stm; Mark Tran, UK Prisoners Denied the Vote Should not be Compensated, ECHR Rules, The Guardian, Aug. 12, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/12/uk-prisoners-denied-vote-no-compensation-european-court-of-human-rights.

[9] Convicted Prisoners Voting Bill, 2014-5, H.C. Bill 50 (U.K.), available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2014-2015/0050/15050.pdf.

[10] Caspar Walsh, Why Prisoners Should be Given the Right to Vote, The Guardian, June 5, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/05/prisoners-right-to-vote.

[11] Roger Clegg & Marc Mauer, Should Ex-Felons be Allowed to Vote?, Sentencing Project, Nov. 1, 2004 available at http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/File/FVR/fd_legalaffairsdebate.pdf.

[12] Shami Chakrabarti & Dominic Raab, Duel: Should Prisoners be able to vote?, Prospect, Aug. 20, 2014, http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/regulars/duel-should-prisoners-be-able-to-vote; Reynolds Holding, Why can’t Felons vote?, Time, Nov. 1, 2006, http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1553510,00.html.


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International Law Society at the United Nations

Natalie Krajinovic

On January 23, 2015 the International Law Society (ILS) from the University of Baltimore School of Law visited the United Nations (UN) in New York City. The Presbyterian Ministry at the UN hosted ILS, arranged for a number of speakers to discuss human rights law, and facilitated a tour of the UN.* The overall theme of the visit suggested that greater cooperation and action is needed across both legal and social regimes in order to enhance the strength of human rights law internationally.

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Our first speaker was Shulamith Koenig, the Founding President of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning (formerly known as People’s Decade for Human Rights Education). She founded the Movement in 1988 with the goal of creating, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “a new political culture based on human rights—and to enable women and men alike to participate in the decisions that determine their lives, and live in community in dignity with one another, moving from charity to dignity guided by the holistic human rights framework.”[1] Mrs. Koenig’s invigorating discussion focused on the inalienability of human rights. She asserted that in order to address human rights abuses, we need to consider human rights as a “framework”, not an “approach.” This framework ultimately requires that every human have the knowledge that they hold human rights and are entitled to dignity. As a strategy for human, social and economic development, Mrs. Koenig advocates for meaningful grassroots discussions to effect change through learning about human rights as a way of life.

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“Human Rights is about recognizing the humanity of the other as your own.” Shulamith Koenig

Renzo Pomi then spoke to our group regarding Amnesty International’s role in the preservation and promotion of human rights. Mr. Pomi is a human rights lawyer with over 30 years experience in the field. He is currently Amnesty International’s Representative at the United Nations, covering areas of human rights and humanitarian law in armed conflict and post conflict settings, international justice and accountability, among others.[2] He is also responsible for Amnesty International’s institutional work at the Organization of American States, in particular the strengthening of the Inter-American Human Rights System. Mr. Pomi spoke about the importance of a legal education in the field of human rights. He further addressed how an international human rights framework is critical to the development of human rights law.

Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International

John Washburn spoke to ILS regarding the need for the U.S. to ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC).[3] Mr. Washburn has an extensive career in diplomacy and international governmental and non-governmental organizations. He was a director in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and thereafter was a director in the Department of Political Affairs at the United Nations. He is currently the Convener of the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC), co-chair of the Washington Working Group on the International Criminal Court (WICC), and a past president of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. Mr. Washburn’s discussion on the validity of the ICC focused on the legitimacy of the Court. He emphasized the secular nature of the Court and its focus on justice. He categorized the Court’s aim of justice as punitive justice that is redemptive. For proponents of the ICC, the ICC allows for international acknowledgement of the harm done by perpetrators, which ultimately provides reprieve to victims of crimes when moving forward with their lives.

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Finally, we met with Janette Amer, Human Rights Adviser of UN Women,[4] who discussed equality and gender balance as a human rights issue. She discussed the importance of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), its achievements and the challenges ahead. In particular, Ms. Amer identified the need for sustainable equality efforts under both the UN and other entities. “The humanity of women alone is insufficient to ensure human rights,” Ms. Amer noted. Ms. Amer emphasized the importance of campaigns, such as HeForShe, in enhancing the substantive opportunities women have. These types of campaigns emphasize not only that women be equal under the law, but also in reality, with their everyday experiences and opportunities. These types of campaigns are of particular importance given the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action this year.

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The seminars’ emphasis on human rights reminds us of one of the purposes of the United Nations: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”[5] The seminars demonstrated the intermingling of various parties’ perspectives regarding human rights. It showed how activists, NGOs, judicial bodies and the UN itself react and promote human rights laws across the globe. The most effective way of achieving these purposes is ultimately through the domestic implementation of international human rights law.

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*The International Law Society would like to sincerely thank the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, specifically The Rev. W. Mark Koenig, Director, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, for organizing this wonderful event.

Natalie Krajinovic is a University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. candidate (’15), with a concentration in Business Law. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in English and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, St. George. Natalie has always had an interest in international law and policy. While studying at the University of Toronto, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Globalist, an international relations magazine with chapters across the globe. She currently serves as the President of the International Law Society and as the Comments Editor for the Journal of International Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Natalie is also a law clerk for John H. Denick & Associates, P.A., a business law firm in downtown Baltimore and is an intern with International Rights Advocates in Washington, D.C.

[1] Shulamith Koenig, PDHRE: The People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, http://www.pdhre.org/people/shulabio.html (last visited Jan. 31, 2015).

[2] Who We Are, Amnesty International, http://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are (last visited Jan. 31, 2015).

[3] About the Court, International Criminal Court, http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/about%20the%20court/Pages/about%20the%20court.aspx (last visited Jan. 31, 2015).

[4] About UN Women, UN Women, http://www.unwomen.org/en/about-us/about-un-women (last visited Jan. 31, 2015).

[5] U.N. Charter art. 1(2).