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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Reoccurring Xenophobic Attacks Cause Turmoil in South Africa

Suzanne De Deyne

At a recent gathering, Zulu King Goodwill Swelithini described immigrants “as lice that must be removed”[1] and urged foreigners to “pack their bags and go” because they are taking jobs away from natural-born South African citizens.[2]  Although kings are mostly ceremonial figures in South Africa, they are influential in their communities. In this instance, Zulu King Goodwill’s statements sparked violent xenophobic acts against immigrants in Durban, a port city in South Africa.[3] The violence has since spread to other major cities in South Africa, most notably the commercial city of Johannesburg.  Nearby African nations have also condemned these recent xenophobic attacks and as a precaution have evacuated their citizens from South Africa.[4]  This blog post seeks to provide an overview of the recent xenophobic attacks and develop an understanding of why these xenophobic attacks keep happening in South Africa.

At present, South Africa has about two million documented and undocumented immigrants.[5]  Many come to South Africa, also known as the “rainbow nation,” for a better life and hope to contribute to the nation’s economy by bringing skills that are in demand. Unfortunately, South Africans perceive these immigrants as criminals; even President Jacob Zuma’s eldest son, Edward, said of foreigners that, “we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb of them taking over the country.”[6]  President Zuma responded with an emotionless plea by stating, “it is misleading and wrong to label or regard all foreign nationals as being involved in crime in the country.”[7]

The recent violent xenophobic attacks, mainly arising in poor and marginalized areas, have killed at least seven people and have left roughly 5,000 people homeless.[8]  This is not the first time South Africa has dealt with xenophobic attacks and many activists say progress, however incremental, is being made.  This time a round, South Africa deployed its army to hostile areas to prevent further attacks against foreigners[9] and police were commended for their vigorous response to the violence.[10]  Additionally, in Johannesburg a hotline for victims to report xenophobic attacks was launched to help members of vulnerable communities come forward and report problems to the police.[11]  To increase international awareness of these human rights violations, some South Africans have taken to social media, with the hash-tag “WeAreAfrica,” and have held protests against xenophobia and violence in the streets of South Africa.[12]

A notable difference between the recent xenophobic attacks in comparison to those that occurred in previous years is the increase of commitment to prosecute perpetrators.[13]  It is absolutely imperative that perpetrators be prosecuted for their actions to deter others from committing the human right violations associated with xenophobic attacks – including but not limited to looting foreign owned businesses, rape, murder, robbery, and theft.[14]  Criminal accountability is just one necessary tactic to mitigate xenophobic attacks in South Africa.  For example, Peace Action, a non-governmental organization was created to monitor and raise awareness on this issue within local communities and law enforcement.[15]  Peace Action places workers where foreigners are most vulnerable, including the country’s refugee centers, where poor migrants are often denied services and bullied for bribes as well as hospitals, which recently began illegally demanding cash payments in advance from foreign patients.[16]

Despite the improvement in the accountability process for those who commit xenophobic attacks or an increase in resources for those affected by xenophobic attacks, the fundamental question revolving around these attacks remains – why do they keep happening?  The answer is straightforward – inequality.  Today, South Africa remains one of the “most unequal societies on the planet.”[17]  On April 27, 1994 South Africa held its first post apartheid elections; and for many South Africans, the proximity of the recent attacks to this historic anniversary is a harsh reminder of the failures of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to carry out Nelson Mandela’s promise of a “better life for all.”[18]  Vast unemployment, lack of affordable housing, inability to deliver basic services, like water and electricity, and a growing gap between rich and poor have left most South Africans without a safety net.[19]  The government must step in and address inequality to alleviate South African’s from these inhumane xenophobic attacks.  Perhaps the reason why these attacks keep occurring is because it is harder to hold elected officials accountable than to place the blame on foreigners.  Foreigners are an easy scapegoat but they should not suffer for the government’s lack of success in diverting inequality and establishing a prosperous economy.  If anything, locals and immigrants should work hand in hand to continue the hope that the nickname “rainbow nation” connotes. “Xenophobia starts in people’s minds…and it grows with a lack of education and a lack of understanding,” stated Trish Erasmus, Director of the Refugee-and-Migrants Program at the nonprofit Lawyers for Human Rights.[20]  Effective criminal prosecution and practical grassroots efforts are essential to foster a greater dialogue between immigrants and South Africans to change the perception of foreigners.  The government must take responsibility and squash the xenophobic attitude throughout the entire country by addressing the bigger issue: inequality.

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] Interview by Renee Montagne with Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Int’l Correspondent, NPR News, (Apr. 21, 2015) [hereinafter Interview], available at http://www.npr.org/2015/04/21/401167136/immigrants-flee-south-africa-after-xenophobic-attacks. King Zwelithini leads about nine million Zulus, representing the single biggest ethnic group in South Africa. Id.

[2] Faith Karimi, What’s Behind Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa?, CNN (Apr. 19, 2015), http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/18/africa/south-africa-xenophobia-explainer/. According to the UN, the attacks began in March 2015 after a labor dispute between citizens and foreign workers. Id.

[3] Karimi, supra note 2. Zulu King Zwelithini has since denied making this comment and stated journalists misquoted him. Id.

[4] Karimi, supra note 2.

[5] Karimi, supra note 2. Zimbabweans make up the largest group of immigrants in South Africa. Id.

[6] Blood at the End of the Rainbow, Economist (Apr. 25, 2015), http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21649429-south-africas-poor-are-turning-those-even-more-downtrodden-blood-end-rainbow.

[7] Karimi, supra note 2.

[8] South Africa Army to Tackle Xenophobic Attacks, BBC (Apr. 21, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32396532.

[9] South Africa Army to Tackle Xenophobic Attacks, supra note 9.

[10] Christopher Vourlias, After Xenophobic Attacks, South African Gov’t Blasted for Tardy Response, Aljazeera America (Apr. 25, 2015), http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/4/25/after-xenophobic-attacks-s-african-government-blasted-for-tardy-response.html.

[11] Vourlias, supra note 10.

[12] Karimi, supra note 2.

[13] Vourlias, supra note 10.

[14] Karimi, supra note 2.

[15] Vourlias, supra note 10.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

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UB students participate in the 2nd Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition

From March 14th through March 17th in Chicago, UB Law students: Gregory Franklin (2L), Christian Noble (3L) and Maya Zegarra (3L) participated in the 2nd Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition. The competition was hosted by the American Red Cross (ARC), and sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Canadian Red Cross, and the American Society of International Law. Team UB was sponsored by UB’s International Law Society. Thcompetition, named after the founder of the American Red Cross, is simulation-based experiential legal competition exposing rising professionals to the practice of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and real world challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict.


Team UB

 In preparation for the competition, we met twice a week with our coach Catherine Moore, Coordinator for International Law Programs, to discuss several topics of IHL and run simulations of various scenarios illustrating IHL issues.  To prepare even more, we attended the IHL Workshop held by the ARC, ICRC, and University of Virginia a month prior to the competition, in Charlottesville, VA. To participate in the competition, we submitted a statement of interest, personal bios, and memorandums addressing IHL issues as pre-qualification requirement. Out of the application packet submissions, only sixteen teams from the U.S. and Canada were selected to participate in the competition.

 Clara Barton teams

A couple of days before the start of the competition, we received several background documents detailing tensions concerning a few small nations in and around the fictional Neptune Sea.  After the end of the Great War between the Antlian Federation and the Socialist Republic of Centaurs, Antlia annexed a small, formerly independent island chain. Tensions began to ease in the years after Antlia annexed the island chain, but one island, Nuk, remained on edge.  Nuk was experiencing economic downturn and increasing instances of violence between the native Nuk population and new Antlian residents.  The combination of high unemployment, heavy Antlian police presence, and perceived oppression of the native Nuk population by the Antlian oppressors brought about The Nuk Independence Liberation Front (NILF).  This group fought for independence with bombings, armed skirmishes, kidnappings, and propaganda.  This scenario would morph over time as the competition progressed.


Simulating a Press Conference

Simulating a Press Conference

While our first day in Chicago was one of rest and social gatherings, our second day was all IHL, all the time.  Day two began at 7am with a short breakfast.  The first simulation required us to assume the role of the Antlian Press Team and deflect/ reason accusations that our nation’s actions were akin to placing us into an armed conflict.  Warning shots issued to another nation, Centaurus, were characterized as communication.  Military units were labeled a “police force.”  This simulation taught us a hard lesson about characterization and word choice.  Christian once referred to the NILF members as “soldiers.”  The press (judges) seized on this gaffe and he was forced to explain he was being facetious.

The second simulation pit two teams against each other.  The detaining power (Team UB) against Prisoners of War (United States Air Force).  As the detaining power, we had the upper hand.  POW requests for flavored e-cigarette cartridges were swiftly denied, while requests for gluten free meals were harder to outright reject.  Life under our iron fist was tough, but we could not lose sight of our humanity.  The simulation continued with discussions about appropriate medical care, access to religious ceremonies, and outside communication in accordance with Geneva Convention. 

Team UB Plays the Detaining Power in an Armed Conflict

Team UB Plays the Detaining Power in an Armed Conflict

Day three began with a two part simulation.  Our task was to play both sides of an argument regarding two futuristic weapons.  The Flat Immersible Net (FIN) and an electromagnetic rail gun.  The FIN attaches to passing vessels, slowing their voyage.  Unfortunately, the FIN does not distinguish between military and civilian vessels.  Additionally, the FIN is very effective at inadvertently catching fish, reducing the local population by as much as 20%.  The rail gun is very effective at dismembering enemy military, but maybe too effective.  Further, the rail gun munitions splinter upon impact, sometimes into undetectable particulate small enough to be inhaled by nearby civilian fishing vessels.

Pointing out the negative impact of these weapons was the easy part.  Indiscriminate weapons, weapons that break apart into non-detectable fragments, and weapons that cause undue suffering are all prohibited by one or more international treaties. The second part of the simulation, explaining to an Antlian government official why these weapons do not violate those treaties, proved more challenging.  The main crux of our argument was pointing out ambiguous facts (“Thought to cause breathing problems?  I can think anything.  Is there actual proof?”) and how these weapons were just like traditional ordinance (“Bullets and bombs sever limbs.  This is the same thing.”).

The final simulation involved a mock United Nations discussion with four states.  The purpose was to create a peace keeping force to maintain an uneasy and time-sensitive ceasefire between Antlia and rival state, Lyra.  Our job was to discuss the mandate and the status of the peacekeeping personnel.  During the discussion, a question was raised: Would the status of the peacekeepers (and their respective home state) change in the event they engaged in hostilities with NILF members in the course of their peacekeeping duties?  Alternatively, would the states involved be dragged into a non-international armed conflict (NIAC)?  Three states agreed and would discuss particulars of dealing with a NIAC at a future meeting.  One state took a hardline stance: in the event of a NIAC, they would immediately pull their military support.  Due to this impasse, our roundtable did not proceed further.  Our discussion centered on the rogue state’s lack of support and the definition of the peacekeeper’s role. 

UB dinner

After a long, hard fought two days four teams advanced to the semi-finals, unfortunately, this did not include Team UB.  The two semi-final rounds focused on an International Court of Justice suit filed against the Socialist Republic of Centaurus for alleged activities in the Neptune Sea region.  After the dust settled, two teams remained standing: United States Air Force and University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.  The final simulation required the teams to negotiate a formal cessation of hostilities between the Socialist Republic of Centaurus and the Antlian Federation.  Negotiations were fierce, including prisoner return and the withdraw of troops from occupied territory.  While both sides of the negotiation were well represented, the performance of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law convinced the judges for the win.

Team UB and Georgetown at dinner

Teams UB and Georgetown at dinner

 Overall, it was a great experience to be able to represent the University of Baltimore School of Law and participate in the Clara Barton Competition to further our knowledge of IHL.  It was also great to meet professionals and experts in the field including our fellow students who also have great interest in IHL. We hope that UB will field a team next year and continue this tradition of participation in the Clara Barton!

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The Drums of War are Beating in… the Vatican??

Matt Matechik

Vatican officials have indicated that the Holy See will support the use of force against ISIL and Boko Haram.

As the Catholic Church observed the solemn Lenten season, Vatican officials considered a solemn question, one rarely broached by the Church in modern times: Should the Holy See endorse war? Specifically, the Vatican is considering backing the use of internationally sanctioned force against violent Islamic extremist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram. The Vatican appears poised to support the use of force.

Any endorsement would mark a dramatic shift in the Vatican’s approach to armed conflict. The modern Vatican has historically been opposed to the use of force on almost every occasion. For example, the Vatican explicitly opposed both the 1991 and 2003 US-led wars in Iraq as well as proposed airstrikes against Syria in 2013. Regarding the 2003 Iraq War, Pope John Paul II commented that war is “always a defeat for humanity.”[i] However, contemporary challenges presented by ISIL and Boko Haram have caused the Vatican to cautiously and reluctantly change course.

Pope Francis, known for his compassionate demeanor and named after the peaceful St. Francis of Assisi, first implied the Vatican might support the use of force in August 2014 when he tacitly approved of American airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq. The Pope commented that “it is licit to stop an unjust aggressor.” He stopped there however and refused to explicitly approve of the US operations. He further qualified that only the international community, as opposed to a single nation, could decide exactly how the aggressor should be stopped.[ii] More recently, on 13 March, Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva, called for the international community to defeat ISIL by “achiev[ing] a political settlement without violence.” He conceded though that such a settlement might not be possible. In that case, Tomasi bluntly asserted “the use of force will be necessary.”[iii] Tomasi appeared to again endorse the use of force on 2 April, this time against Boko Haram, at the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the Situation of Human Rights in Nigeria. A in the previous statements, he emphasized that any military action must be coordinated by the international community.[iv] If the Vatican does support the use of force outright, the position would be grounded in both international law and Canon law.


Vatican support for the use of force is grounded in international law.

The Vatican has made clear that any Vatican endorsement of the use of force will be fully compliant with international law. The prohibition against the use of force is a fundamental and foundational principle of the UN charter. Article II, paragraph 4, prohibits “the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” The inclusion of only these two situations implies that force is legal under international law in other situations. At least four have been identified.

First, the use of force is always legal if a UNSC resolution has authorized it. The UNSC might authorize force against ISIL, although crossing veto powers usually preclude the UNSC from agreeing on military intervention. Second, the use of force is always legal when used in self-defense. As the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholic Christians, the Vatican can plausibly claim that its people are threatened. Third, the use of force is always legal by invitation. Some countries in which ISIL and Boko Haram operate have already invited others to combat Islamic extremism within their territory.

Fourth, the use of force might be legal if carried out in support of humanitarian intervention. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine obligates all states to protect oppressed peoples from manmade catastrophes.[v] The Vatican appears to look toward R2P as an international justification. Archbishop Tomasi stated “There is a common human dignity we all share and it should be protected at all costs,” and “We are not fighting for Christians simply because they are Christians. We start from the foundation that they are human beings with equal rights.”[vi] In the R2P context, the use of force is legal if the force is used to support a just cause, with the right intention, as a last resort, is proportional, and offers a reasonable prospect of success. From the Vatican’s perspective, putting an end to the widespread and systematic killing of Christians and other minorities is a just cause. The intentions would be “right” in the sense that the force would be used to stop the killings, not to take territory or achieve a prohibited purpose. The Vatican has made clear that a political solution must be sought out first and only if that failed should force be used as a last resort. The Vatican would only support proportional means that targeted only the violent Islamic extremists. Finally, any internationally-sanctioned use of force like the Vatican is calling for would offer reasonable chances to defeat the violent groups assuming a proper military strategy.


Vatican support for the use of force is grounded in Canon law.

The Church very strongly opposes the resort to the use of force generally. This position is rooted in the Fifth Commandment which states “You shall not kill.” The rule is not absolute however. Catholic tradition has developed guidelines for when force is justified, known as Just War Theory. The theory was first postulated by St. Augustine during the fourth century A.D. when the Church’s growing dominance in the Roman Empire forced the issue. The theory has been modified over the centuries but its principles have remained largely the same. Today, the Church looks to the authoritative text of paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states:

“The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. There must be serious prospects of success;
  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.[vii]

The elements are strikingly similar to the R2P elements described above. The first element speaks to “just cause” and “right intentions.” It also requires that the aggression is lasting, meaning a short-term incident would not suffice. ISIL certainly appears poised to be a menace for the long-term. The second element is a “last resort” requirement. The third element is a “reasonable prospect of success” requirement. The fourth element speaks to proportionality and gives special consideration to the horrific destructive capability of modern weapons.


The Catechism makes clear that endorsing the use of force is a matter of grave concern that demands close and extremely careful consideration. The Catechism also emphasizes moral legitimacy, meaning that force can only be used for righteous purposes to counter aggression.

The Vatican’s position is indicative of dangerous times.

The Vatican normally pursues exclusively diplomatic solutions. The fact that the Holy See is backing the use of force against violent Islamic extremist groups is a sign of just how dangerous these groups have become to the world. Pope Francis may be best known for his compassionate outreach and “turn the other cheek” philosophy but the global situation might offer him no alternative to war.

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.nytimes.com/1991/04/01/world/pope-denounces-the-gulf-war-as-darkness.html; http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/14/international/europe/14POPE.html

[ii] http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/08/18/pope-offers-cautious-yellow-light-for-us-airstrikes-in-iraq/

[iii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/11473055/ISIL-force-may-be-necessary-says-Vatican-ambassador-to-Geneva.html

[iv] http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/04/02/holy_see_calls_for_swift_action_against_violent_extremism_in/1133938

[v] It should be noted that R2P is not yet universally recognized as international custom. For more information about the history of R2P in the UNGA, see http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml.

[vi] http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/03/13/vatican-backs-military-force-to-stop-isis-genocide/

[vii] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

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I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Ali Rickart

TRIAL, short for Track Impunity Always, does just that. The Swiss organization was founded in 2002 as a way to track and watch international persons that have allegedly committed crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and more. The association has consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is an apolitical organization. After being inspired by the capture of Pinochet in 1998 and the subsequent establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, the goals of TRIAL are to “put the law at the service of the victims of international crime.”[1] TRIAL wants to fight impunity, defend the victims of international crimes, and raise awareness of the crimes and perpetrators to show the need for coherent and effective national and international justice systems.


There are several areas in which TRIAL works: litigation, lobbying, informing the public, and research. Through these different areas, TRIAL works with people around the globe to successfully meet its goals. The litigation process has three different methods for pursuing international criminals and helping victims. First, the Advocacy Center TRIAL (ACT) works on filing complaints before international human rights bodies, to help victims of crime achieve justice. The second method is to distribute information to victims of armed conflicts and what legal methods they have to promote their right to justice. Third, TRIAL will actually file complaints in Swiss courts “against individuals present on Swiss territory suspected of international crimes.”[2]

TRIAL regularly lobbies with Swiss and international authorities, as well as working with the Swiss Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CSCPI). The research includes ICC Legal Tools, a digital library, which gathers, analyzes, and classifies documents of the 46 countries on national legislation and practice in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  In collaboration with Pro Juventute, TRIAL is working on a video game project, showing the connection between video/computer games and international humanitarian law. The idea was created by TRIAL, but the study received an encouragement award at the 2007 International Human Rights Forum in Lucerne. Recently, TRIAL received the “Geneva grateful” medal (médaille “Genève reconnaissante”) on behalf of the Mayor of Geneva. If you can speak French, the link to the article is posted here.

TRIAL is also a partner organization of the Center for International and Comparative Law (CICL), allowing CICL Student Fellows at the University of Baltimore School of Law to work on profiles as a part of the TRIAL Watch Project.

The TRIAL Watch Project – Informing the Public of International Criminal Law Perpetrators

Informing the public is one of TRIAL’s biggest goals and biggest projects, which is done through TRIAL Watch. Its website is a database compiled of profiles of perpetrators and instigators of international crimes. They also distribute a trilingual TRIAL Journal, printed three times a year. Each day, a summary of news in international criminal law and the fight against impunity in the world is placed on the website and sent to subscribers once a week. As a way to become more known, TRIAL Watch organizes public discussions, lectures, and film screenings as well as  ‘actions’ on important days of the year such as International Justice Day (July 17) and International Day of the Missing (August 30).


The profiles that are shown on the website of TRIAL Watch are drafted by volunteers and in up to four languages – English, French, Spanish, and German.[3] The profiles include pertinent information such as the criminal’s name, aliases, status (indicted, sentenced, acquitted, etc.), position, as well as what they have allegedly done. Below each brief set of facts and information is a detailed profile including specifics as to the crime and the person, including the facts, the legal procedure, and the context in which the crime occurred (such as the Sierra Leone civil war or Bangladeshi Liberation War, for example).

The profiles also try to include photographs of the alleged criminal and their last known whereabouts. If possible, links to relevant documents are also included such as case documents, United Nations Security Council resolutions, books, judgments, and other related documents. This can help further research by anyone who wants more information on the person, the crime, or the case. It is also possible to be subscribed to a particular profile, in order to be informed if any updates are made on the profile. TRIAL Watch regularly updates all profiles if any new events, charges, indictments, sentencing, etc., occurs to an alleged criminal.

As a Fellow of the CICL and assigned to the TRIAL Watch team, I draft articles of alleged international criminals such as Sladjan Cukaric and Miodrag Josipovic. I have also drafted an update for Maulana Abdus Subhan, as part of the initiative to keep all profiles as current as possible, to help those tracking criminals and their progress through their respective judicial systems, stay up to date on information. It can be hard work, there is not always a lot of available information on people or what little information there is often comes from foreign sources that must be translated and checked for accuracy. The impact TRIAL Watch has on citizens of nations all around the world is worth every second of the work.

If you are interested in international criminal law or international humanitarian law, you can become a volunteer, donate, and become a TRIAL Watch member. You can also join the CICL Fellows program and work on the TRIAL Watch team! It’s absolutely possible to work on international law right here in Baltimore!

Alexandra Rickart is a second-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, planning to graduate in May 2016 with a concentration in International Law. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2013 with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Business. Her primary interests include international law, international criminal law, and domestic criminal law.

In addition to being a CICL Fellows, she is the Secretary of the International Law Society and a Staff Editor for the University of Baltimore Journal of International Law. She competed in the 2014-15 Jessup International Moot Court Competition, Mid-Atlantic Region. During her first year of law school, she was a tutor for Baltimore elementary students as part of the Truancy Court program through the Center for Families, Children and the Courts. Alexandra is currently a law clerk for a criminal defense firm in Baltimore.

[1] Introduction, TRIAL, http://www.trial-ch.org/en/about-trial.html.

[2] Introduction, TRIAL, http://www.trial-ch.org/en/about-trial.html.

[3] The website itself, as a whole, can be translated into one of these four languages by a convenient button on the top right hand of the screen.

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U.S. and Cuba: Finally Defrosting from the Cold War

Annielle Makon

Historical Background 

The tumultuous U.S.-Cuba relationship has its roots during the Cold War. In 1959, Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries seized power in Havana, overthrowing President Fulgencio Batista.[1] The United States recognized Castro’s government, despite misgivings about his communist political ideology.[2]  However, by 1960, tension between Cuba and the United States grew when Cuba increased trade with the Soviet Union and increased taxes on American imports.[3] The United States retaliated by slashing Cuban sugar imports, and then imposing a ban on nearly all exports to Cuba.[4] President Kennedy then issued a full economic embargo that included travel restrictions.[5] By 1961, the United States had severed all diplomatic ties with Cuba and attempted to overthrow the Castro regime through covert operations.[6] The Bay of Pigs invasion has been widely regarded as a botched CIA back attempt to overthrow the government that led Cuba to allow the Soviet Union to build a missile base on their island.[7] This led to a twelve-day nuclear standoff between Cuba and the United States[8] Eventually, the Cuban Missile crisis ended with an agreement that the missile base would be dismantled and that the US would not invade Cuba additionally the US would remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.[9]  Since then, the US and Cuba’s relation have been hostile at best.


Challenges Starting Anew

The US and Cuba held on to this Cold War grudge until December 17, 2014, when Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced a historical break in the relations between Cuba and the United States – the U.S. and Cuba would restore diplomatic ties.[10]  The attempt at normalizing diplomatic relations was facilitated, surprisingly, by Pope Francis and Minister Stephen Harper of Canada.[11] The change began with a prisoner swap and Havana’s release of a jailed U.S. contractor.[12] Furthermore, the United States eased restrictions on remittances, travel and banking.[13] In return Cuba released 53 political prisoners.[14] However, the U.S. trade embargo, which requires congressional approval to be rescinded, is unlikely to be lifted any time soon, due to opposition in Congress.[15] Both governments are learning that fifty years of isolations has not worked and there has been no improvement between the two nations.  This change is a long time coming.


This historic step will open a new era of relations between the two nations.  It will help ease the tension, and the United States can help create stability to handle the economic, political, and social transformation that Cuba desperately needs.[16] For this reform to be effective each nation needs to adjust their hostile attitude towards the other. Cuba needs to readjust its socio-political institutionalism.[17] According to Human Rights Watch, Cuba continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government.[18]  By no longer isolating Cuba, the human rights situation in Cuba will hopefully improve and eventually lead to political reforms.[19]

Both countries are optimistic about progress occurring.  Although, it will take time so see the long-term impact, there are some immediate impacts occurring right now. The immediate change was reestablishing diplomatic relations that was severed in 1961. The U.S. is even attempting to reestablish an embassy in Havana.[20] Additionally, the U.S. is expanding travel to Cuba. There are some groups that fear that this not a positive step. The U.S. delegation voiced concern over the lack of freedom of expression and assembly in Cuba and the Cuban delegation responded stating that the U.S have issues regarding police brutality and inequality, and the issues surrounding the torture and indefinite detention of Guantanamo inmates. Moreover, President Obama is under pressure from Republicans to make a breakthrough with Cuba on human rights. The Cuban government has acknowledged that they have work to do regarding human rights.


We know that the road to progress won’t be easy and it will be marked by personal limits, political errors and human fears. Many obstacles lay ahead for both countries to overcome, especially with the historical problems between them.  There is profuse distrust on both sides, yet it is a change that finally needs to start happening. So grab your passports and head to Cuba while you can!

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] Danielle Renwick & Brianna Lee, US-Cuba Relations, Council on Foreign Relations (Jan. 20, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/cuba/us-cuba-relations/p11113.

[2] Id.

[3] Claire Suddath, A Brief History Of U.S.-Cuba Relations, Time  (Apr. 15, 2009), http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1891359,00.html.

[4] Id.

[5] Renwick, supra note 1.

[6] Renwick, supra note 1.

[7] Renwick, supra note 1.

[8] Renwick, supra note 1.

[9] Renwick, supra note 1.

[10] Renwick, supra note 1.

[11] Immanuel Wallerstein, Cuba and the United States Resume Relations: Happy New Year!, Common Dreams (Jan. 2, 2015), http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/01/02/cuba-and-united-states-resume-relations-happy-new-year.

[12] Renwick, supra note 1.

[13] Renwick, supra note 1.

[14] Renwick, supra note 1.

[15] Renwick, supra note 1.

[16] Lenier González Mederos, Cuba and the United States: The Challenges of Starting Anew, Huffington Post (Jan. 29, 2015), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lenier-gonzalez-mederos/cuba-and-the-united-state_1_b_6571814.html.

[17] Id.

[18] Renwick, supra note 1.

[19] Renwick, supra note 1.

[20] Charting a New Course With Cuba, WhiteHouse (Dec. 17, 2014), https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy/cuba.

1 Comment

The Israeli Parliamentary Elections & What They Mean For Israel-United States Relations

Yasmine Akkad

On March 17, 2015 Israeli parliamentary elections were held, resulting in the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the center-right Likud party.  Despite Mr. Netanyahu’s eventual victory, the parliamentary race was a close one.  A poll from March 13, just a few days before the election, showed the center-left Zionist Union party in the lead.  Furthermore, comments made by Netanyahu in the days leading up to the elections, have stirred public debate.  Most notably, U.S. officials have publically denounced Netanyahu’s statements, highlighting the changing nature of U.S.-Israeli relations.

Israel Vote

Election Breakdown

Israel has a parliamentary system with the 120-seat parliament commonly referred to as the Knesset.   This system is based on nation-wide proportional representation, which means that voters elect nationally registered political factions—like Netanyahu’s Likud party—and not local candidates.  For Americans, who, unlike Israelis, vote for individual candidates, this type of electoral system is foreign.

Knesset elections must be held once every four years, though many coalitions do not survive a full term due to political instability.  Such was the case recently, when in December of 2014, the Israeli government collapsed.

Election turnout this year was 72.3%.  Netanyahu’s Likud party gained the most Knesset seats, with the Zionist Union party coming in second.  The Joint List, which is an Arab Israeli coalition, came in third.


Prior to the elections, the Netanyahu Administration’s stance concerning Palestine was that a two-state solution was possible.  However, in the days leading up to the election, and in the face of unfavorable poll numbers, Netanyahu said he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected.  Furthermore, in order to mobilize more supporters, Netanyahu warned, “The Arabs are voting in droves.”  Arab Israelis make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and 15 percent of the country’s eligible voters.


Such remarks by Mr. Netanyahu were met with harsh criticism, particularly from U.S. President Barack Obama.  In an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama said Netanyahu’s remarks upended the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ran counter to the very nature of Israeli democracy.  According to Obama, Netanyahu’s statements will discourage people from thinking negotiations are possible.  In regards to the comments about Arab voters “coming in droves” Obama said “we indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions—that although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly.”  Obama warned that if people were not treated equally and fairly, democracy in the country would be undermined.

What This Means

Netanyahu has since apologized for his remarks and said he had not meant to offend Israeli Arab voters.  Mr. Netanyahu also softened his stance saying that he wanted a two-state solution, but that “circumstances have to change.”

Some may call Netanyahu’s apology progress, while others may call it back-pedaling.  Regardless, such public denouncements by Mr. Obama are not only harsh, but also indicative of the strained relationship between the two world leaders.  For example, earlier in the month, Netanyahu addressed Congress in a passionate speech about Iran.  The only problem was that U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu without consulting with President Obama first.  Ouch.

Netanyahu Congress

So, what does this mean?  The strained relationship between Obama and Netanyahu is undoubtedly tense.  But a lack of support for Netanyahu in the White House is not indicative of a lack of support for Netanyahu—after all, the Israeli leader was invited to address Congress.  So, despite what some may call a departure from normal U.S.-Israeli relations, the bond between the two countries will not be broken.  The United States has always been, and I think will continue to be, Israel’s biggest ally.

Yasmine Akkad is a second year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. Candidate (’16).  She holds a Bachelors of Science in Law and American Civilization and a minor in English from Towson University.  Her primary interests include international law and international human rights law.  In addition to being a CICL Fellow, she competed in the 2014-2015 Jessup International Moot Court Competition, Mid-Atlantic Region.