Distinguished jurist Navi Pillay discusses state sovereignty and human rights

duo“The biggest violators of human rights are states themselves, by commission or omission.”

This quote by Navi Pillay aptly summarized her talk on “National Sovereignty vs. International Human Rights.” Pillay, whose renowned legal career has included posts as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and as a judge on the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, spoke this morning at the University of Georgia School of Law Atlanta campus.

Elaborating on the quote above, Pillay decried national legislation aimed at restricting the activities – and with it the effectiveness – of local nongovernmental organizations. Such anti-NGO laws already have passed in Russia and are pending in Pillay’s home state of South Africa, among other countries. That said, she welcomed new means of speaking law to power; in particular, social media that permit human rights advocates to reach millions. Also welcomed were accountability mechanisms that the United Nations has developed in recent decades, such as Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council, reporting processes of treaty bodies, and reports by special rapporteurs.

amann_pillayI was honored to give welcoming remarks at the breakfast. Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, which I lead, cosponsored this Georgia WILL event with the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and Georgia State University’s Global Studies Institute. (We owe special thanks to Judge Dorothy Toth Beasley for her hospitality this week.)

Conversing with Pillay was World Affairs Council President Charles Shapiro. They began by speaking of Pillay’s childhood in Durban, where she grew up the daughter of a bus driver. She spoke of how testifying as a 6-year-old in the trial of a man who’d stolen money from her helped spark her desire to become a lawyer – and how donations from her community helped make that dream a reality.

Shapiro then asked about capital punishment, noting a scheduled execution. Pillay acknowledged the absence of any universal treaty outlawing the death penalty, but found evidence of U.N. opposition both in the decision not to permit the penalty in U.N. ad hoc international criminal tribunals and in the growing support for the oft-repeated U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment.

“It started with just 14 states against the death penalty, and is now more than 160,” said Pillay, who currently serves on the International Commission against the Death Penalty.

img_0335On this and other issues, she said, advocates endeavor to encourage states first to obligate themselves to respect and ensure human rights, and then to implement the undertakings they have made in this regard:

“The United Nations was formed by states. It is a club of governments. Look how steadily they have adopted treaties and agreed to be bound by them. That doesn’t mean we are transgressing sovereignty.”

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

This Tuesday (5/5): UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay at Stanford

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area on May 5, Stanford University’s WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice is pleased to present its Inaugural Public Lecture on Human Rights with Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. She will address The Protection and Promotion of Human Rights: Achievements and Challenges at 5:30 p.m. on May 5 in CEMEX Auditorium at Stanford University (641 Knight Way).

The address will cover Ms. Navi Pillay’s work as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on prevention of human rights violations and implementation of human rights principles, as well as the activities of the UN Human Rights mechanisms such as the Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies, and Special Procedures. She will also share her insights on future human rights challenges.

Navi Pillay served at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014. Her tenure was marked by a focus on addressing discrimination on all grounds, including against previously unaddressed groups such as migrants, LGBT people, people with albinism, and caste-based discrimination. She oversaw the 2011 launch of Free & Equal, an unprecedented global public education campaign to promote greater respect for LGBT rights, and the Secretary-General’s endorsement of the Rights Up Front policy, which ensures that every UN department, regardless of mandate, is committed to advancing the protection of human rights.

A native of South Africa, Pillay was the first non-white female judge of the High Court of South Africa, and previously served as a judge at the International Criminal Court and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where she oversaw groundbreaking jurisprudence on rape as genocide, and on issues of freedom of speech and hate propaganda.

Attendees can kindly RSVP to Jessie Brunner at jbrunner@stanford.edu. We hope to see you there!

A note about the Handa Center:

The WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice is dedicated to promoting the rule of law, accountability, and human rights around the world, in post-conflict settings, developing countries, and in societies grappling with difficult legacies from a historical period of violent conflict. Through research and international programs, the Handa Center supports and helps improve the work of domestic courts, international tribunals, and human rights commissions around the world. Relying on a small core group of lawyers, scholars, student interns, and volunteers, the Center concentrates its resources where it can make a real difference helping people make sense of the past, come to terms with periods of violent social upheaval, and build institutions that will promote justice and accountability. The Center is further committed to increasing awareness and raising the level of discourse around new developments in the fields of human rights and international law. To this end, the Handa Center has dedicated itself to becoming a major public resource center for the study of war crimes and human rights trials, where students, scholars, and legal practitioners can take advantage of new technologies to access unique archival resources from World War II through contemporary international criminal trials. The Handa Center succeeds and carries on all the work of the University of California at Berkeley’s War Crimes Studies Center, which was established by Professor David Cohen in 2000.

Security Council Resolution 2170 against the world’s richest terrorist organization

On 15 August 2014, about a week prior to harsh criticism from the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay ( available here ) for its lack of responsiveness, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2170 in response to the terrorist activities of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) and the Al Nusrah Fron (ANF) as well as other entities associated with Al-Qaida.

This resolution imposes three main duties on all states:

1. Action against the export of terrorist fighters

2. Action against the financing of terrorism

3. Sanctions

The first action consists of four sub-duties. Firstly, the duty of all states to take national measures to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to IS, ANF and connected entities. According to existing estimates, most fighters are foreign- many from Europe, from neighbouring countries and from as far as Indonesia and Chechnya. Secondly, the resolution imposes a duty to bring such individuals to justice. Thirdly, a duty to discourage individuals who are at risk of recruitment and violent radicalization to travel to Syria and Iraq for the purposes of supporting or fighting for IS and ANF. And finally, a duty to prevent direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer to IS, ANF and other individuals and groups associated with Al-Qaida, of arms and related material, as well as assistance and training related to military activities.

The second action, imposes a duty upon all states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts, including the duty to prevent that economic resources are made available for the benefit of these groups. Since IS and ANF have control over a number of oilfields, this imposes a duty for states to refrain from engaging in energy trade with them.

The third action concerning sanctions, lists the names of six individuals on the sanctions list, and encourages that each state submits a list of individuals and entities supporting IS, ANF and similar gorups.

Combining both human and financial support, as well as direct and indirect support, the broadness of the resolution’s language makes it an effective legal tool for reducing the power of IS/ANF. But only if taken seriously, and if taken seriously by all states. Recognized as the riches terrorist organization in the world, the IS has been able to survive for as long as it has, through donations both from states and from individuals with and without connections to states. The resolution prohibits both. The exact answer to where the money comes from has been controversial and it is difficult to point to publicly accessible proofs. The Iraqi Premier Minister, Nouri al-Maliki said on 17 June 2014 that “we hold Saudi Arabia responsible” for the financial and moral support given to IS. Saudi Arabia’s close ally, the USA, rejected that accusation. However, some researchers have supported al-Maliki’s claim, and pointed not only to Saudi Arabia, but also to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates- states of which the six black listed individuals in the resolution are citizens. Another important source of funding has been oil trade, an action also prohibited under the resolution. According to a US intelligence expert, IS draws as much as $ 1 million per day in oil profit from oil well under its control, in a market where demand is high.

Despite the universal condemnation of the IS and ANF, the content of Resolution 2170 clearly indicates that a number of states and individuals have been directly or indirectly cooperating with them. Clearly, someone is buying their oil, providing them with arms and money, and actively sending or not preventing own nationals from joining them. The resolution can thus be read as placing responsibility on the world community for having allowed for the existence of and for having supported the IS/ANF. It is positive that the Security Council now has used international law to point to the responsibility and duty of all states , but it is regrettable that it has to come after a heavy human cost.