Go On! Emerging Humanitarian Frontiers Conference

For those of you in the Washington, D.C. area June 1-2, the American Red Cross will be hosting a 2-day conference entitled Emerging Humanitarian Frontiers addressing emerging frontiers of humanitarian action, including service to marginalized populations, use of cutting-edge technology in emergencies, and engagement of local voices in global responses.

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The conference will be held at the American Red Cross Headquarters – located at 1730 E St. NW, Washington DC – and will also be available to livestream at http://www.humanityinwarblog.com.  If interested you can find the conference registration and itinerary here.

Cuba’s Terror Designation – Major Shift or Symbolic Step?

Following the December, 2014 announcement of a major U.S. policy shift towards Cuba, President Obama has formally submitted to Congress the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) designation.

Cuba was listed on the SST roster in 1982 pursuant to three laws:

  1. Section 6 (j) of the Export Administration Act;
  2. Section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act; and
  3. Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Once designated, a country remains on the list until the designation is rescinded. The Administration’s review presented to Congress determined that Cuba had not engaged in terrorist activity in the past six months and relied on assurances that Cuba will not support terrorism in the future. Following a 45-day review period, Cuba will be removed from the SST list unless blocked by a joint resolution of Congress.

Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and South Yemen have all had their previous designations rescinded in this manner, though there has been some movement in Congress to have North Korea re-designated on the SST list. This also follows the March announcement by the Treasury Department that 59 individuals and entities would be removed from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list under the Kingpin Act. This list, administered by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), designates individuals and companies that are subject to asset blocks and prohibitions from dealings with U.S. persons.

Most importantly, while this does represent another step towards increasing liberalization in U.S. policy towards the island nation, it does not affect the main embargo currently in place. Further action by the relevant agencies including OFAC and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will be needed to alter the current status of sanctions and export control restrictions.

For more on this topic, see related articles by yours truly here and fellow Grrl Andrea M. Ewart here as well as agency guidance from the Treasury Department’s FAQ on Cuba.


Read On!: Drone Wars – Transforming Conflict, Law, and Policy

I’m excited to announce the recent publication of a new book on one of the most talked about tools of modern warfare: drones. Drone Wars – Transforming Conflict, Law, and Policy by Cambridge University Press provides a comprehensive analysis on the context, use, and repercussions of drones in the 21st century. Consisting of a series of essays (including one by fellow Grrl Rosa Brooks called “Drones and Cognitive Dissonance”), the text offers a much-needed voice of thoughtful discussion in a loudly contentious field.

Drone Wars

Much of the content draws from its origins in the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, which houses the groundbreaking datasets on drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan among others. The book’s editors, Peter L. Bergen and Daniel Rothenberg, have done an impressive job at collecting a series of fresh perspectives that would be appreciated by both academics and non-academics alike. This would also serve as an excellent primer for courses on the laws of war in a modern context.

Essays authored by: Peter L. Bergen, Daniel Rothenberg, David Rohde, Jennifer Rowland, Sarah Holewinski, Christopher Swift, Saba Imtiaz, Drone Pilot (unnamed), Charles Blanchard, William C. Banks, Naureen Shah, Tara McKelvey, Michael Waltz, Peter W. Singer, Rosa Brooks, Megan Braun, David True, “Adam Khan”, Werner J. A. Dahm, Konstantin Kakaes, Samuel Issacharoff, Richard Pildes, and Brad Allenby.

Congratulations to the New America Foundation on this fantastic new book!

Obama Announces Shift in Executive Policy on Cuba

President Obama announced on Wednesday that he was pursuing a marked shift in policy to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. This included a future U.S. embassy in the capital city of Havana, as well as the possibility of official visits to the island. Other aspects of the policy agenda called for a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and the opening of channels of travel, commerce, and information. Full details of the updated policy approach here.

Photo credit http://cubanos.org.uk/news/75-a-letter-to-barack-obama-cuba

Photo credit

Notable in this key moment in U.S-Cuba relations was the role of Pope Francis, who President Obama acknowledging for playing a strong role in facilitating the release of U.S. citizen Alan Gross. Gross, a USAID employee, was working in Cuba when he was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state. The Pope made personal appeals to both President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to encourage a dialogue between the two nations and issued a warm congratulations following President Obama’s public address.

Reactions to this historic shift in policy have been mixed. Some hailed the move as an obvious one, considering the lack of positive results from the long-running Cuban embargo. Others, like Senator Marco Rubio, vehemently objected and criticized Obama’s apparent concessions to the Cuban “dictatorship” by exchanging three Cubans held as spies for Gross’s return. Rubio represents a powerful voice against the implementation of many of Obama’s stated goals; he is set to take seat as the Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, and would be in a critical position to block funding for a new embassy in Cuba. After publicly stating that he is “committed to doing everything [he] can to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” Rubio will also be one of the most vocal voices in Congress blocking any changes to the current Cuban embargo.

While Obama’s address certainly marked a key point in thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations, only cooperation between both branches of government will enact a true breakdown of the Cold War policies that have governed for the last 50 years.



Challenges Facing the Future of International Criminal Law

The Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) hosted a panel at their most recent annual conference on “The Law and Politics of International Criminal Prosecutions,” moderated by yours truly, Speaking alongside fellow grrls Elizabeth Ludwin King and Milena Sterio, Professor Mark Drumbl drew from The Future of International Criminal Law and Transitional Justice, in Research Companion to International Criminal Law: Critical Perspectives (Ashgate, 2012) for his comments on several future challenges faced by international criminal law. We are happy to welcome Professor Drumbl back to International Law Grrls! 

1.     (Re-)nationalization: from technique to context. Although international criminal law is everywhere, in a sense, it is also nowhere. The emergence of international criminal law as impartial technique has come at the expense of context or area studies. The result is a tendency to sideline traditional approaches to dispute resolution and externalize justice from afflicted communities. Now that the institutions of international criminal law are deeply embedded in the fabric of international relations, however, they might develop the confidence to better welcome the local.  

2.     Diversity: from law to justice. Together with better incorporating the local, international criminal law would do well to open up to other accountability mechanisms. International criminal law’s predicate of individual culpability and incarceration may simply not be favored among all victim communities. Nor do all victim communities idealize the atrocity trial. Many such communities prefer other justice modalities, or an admixture thereof, including truth commissions, lustration, memorialization, public inquiries, community service, and traditional re-integrative practices. Moreover, the collective nature of mass atrocity is such that collective forms of responsibility that target states, organizations, non-state actors and corporations may more accurately reflect the etiology of the crime. A challenge for international criminal law is the need to foster other justice mechanisms.

3.     Scrutiny: from faith to science. The driving force behind international criminal law is faith. Criminal prosecution and incarceration for the guilty is claimed to promote a broad array of goals, including deterrence, retribution, collective reconciliation, re-integration, rehabilitation, expressivism, truth-telling and ending impunity. Are these goals being attained? Are they even attainable? We may believe so – but now that the institutions are up and running, the only way to actually find out is to move from faith to science and treat the institutions that enforce international criminal law as subjects of study in the same rigorous way domestic scholars treat domestic courts.  The challenge for international criminal law is to encourage such study and then absorb the lessons that quality research has to offer.

4.     Truths: from convenience to discomfort.  The atrocity trial pins blame on the vilest and most reprehensible individuals. In reality, however, atrocity is the product of many factors. Individual action, say of leaders, assuredly is one of these. But disappeared from the truth-telling process is the involvement (or nonfeasance) of state actors and international organizations. Also disappeared is the catalytic role of benefitting bystanders, transnational capital, institutional omissions and colonial histories. The truths told by international criminal law are convenient. They are manageable. By blaming the few for the annihilation of the many, these truths comfort. They do not embarrass too much or too many. But the origin of atrocity is much more discomfiting and discomforting. If we move into a mindset where the articulated truths of international criminal law become totalizing, and exclusionary of all others, then we achieve some justice, but we actually settle for a very crimped understanding of justice. One of the reasons why international criminal law may have limited transformative potential – despite its lofty rhetoric – is because it only scratches the surface of what justice actually entails following mass atrocity.

5.     Imagery: from essentialisms to nuance. International criminal law prefers simple images: innocent victim, evil oppressor and heroic humanitarian. In this regard, international criminal law mimics Makau Mutua and David Kennedy’s deconstruction of international human rights law. Yet the simplicity of these images belies the vacillating nature of human behaviour in the crucible of atrocity. Captors – after all – can capture, victims can victimize, and the abused can, in turn, abuse. Primo Levi painfully grappled – without resolution – with the ‘gray zone’, by which he refers to the fuzzy line between connivance and courage, and obsequiousness and morality, interstitially occupied by the kapos in the concentration camps.  International criminal law’s binary absolutes of guilt or innocence are ill-equipped to handle the frustrating subtlety of the human experience during episodes of collective violence. Moreover, in emphasizing the crushed status of victims – for example child soldiers – in order to justify onerous punishment for their oppressors, international criminal law may curry disabling stereotypes of those victims. 

In conclusion, although international criminal law remains the dominant accountability mechanism for episodes of mass atrocity, it awkwardly elucidates the provenance of collective violence and organisational massacre. Perhaps, then, international criminal law should recede and international post-conflict justice – a broader paradigm that includes diverse accountability modalities and a more sublime lexicon – should step up.









Obama names Susan Rice and Samantha Power

Last week President Obama named Susan Rice as Tom Donilon’s replacement for National Security Advisor. Ms. Rice, who currently serves as the US Ambassador to the UN, will be replaced by Samantha Power, most recently the chair of President Obama’s newly-created Atrocities Prevention Board. Both women have been featured on IntLawGrrls (see here, here, and here.)

rice power obama

Ms. Rice was the youngest assistant secretary of state in history when she was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1997, focusing on African affairs and attended Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. She was considered the frontrunner to take over as Secretary of State following Hillary Clinton’s exit, but withdrew after criticism over her role in the public fallout following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last year. (Photo credit here).

Ms. Power taught U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and extremism at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and was the founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She also served as a war correspondent covering conflicts in Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe and won a Pullitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide.”

Both women are seen as liberal interventionists with strong human rights backgrounds and many are waiting to see if their appointment will influence President Obama’s decision to intervene in Syria.

Write On! New Frontiers in the Law of War


Call for Papers: Florida State University Journal of Transnational Law & Policy

Deadline for notification of interest: Sunday, May 19th

The Florida State University Journal of Transnational Law & Policy is issuing an invitation to scholars from all fields to contribute papers for the forthcoming volume New Frontiers in the Law of War. This special themed volume is spearheaded by Professor Jeff McMahan from Rutgers University who will be publishing his article “Necessity and Proportionality in Self-Defense in War” as part of the FSU College of Law Lillich Lecture Series. Papers may address all issues related to the law of war and we encourage novel and innovative approaches to this diverse field. Articles selected for publication will also have corresponding posts on the Journal of Transnational Law & Policy blog.

The deadline for notification of interest in publication is Sunday, May 19th. If interested, or for any further inquiries, please email Margaret Spicer at mjs07j@my.fsu.edu.