Blogging Burma

Readers may be aware that the Burmese junta have shut down the internet in Rangoon but ko htike is still managing to get some reports out on the blog. It would appear that the decision to shut down the internet access is to prevent further posting of photographs and videos of what’s happening on blogs, youtube etc…

Irish people in and around Dublin can show their support for and solidarity with the Burmese protestors by turning up at The Spire, O’Connell Street tomorrow at 2pm – the organisers are particularly asking people to wear red if possible.

Blogging from Burma are: Ko-Htike, Elizabeth Wong, Mizzima and Yangon Thu

17th General Report of the Council for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (COE) last week released its 17th Report on its General Activities in which secret detentions of suspected terrorists are a primary concern. The right to be free from arbitrary detention, which includes a right to challenge the lawfulness of detention, is provided for in Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as in all other major international human rights treaties.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held that the right to challenge the lawfulness of one’s detention is a non-derogable right because of the risk posed to people held in detention, including the risk of being subjected to torture (Advisory Opinion on Habeas Corpus in Emergency Situations). The European Court of Human Rights has not to date expressly held that Article 5 rights have a similar non-derogable character, but the focus on detention in this report might suggest an attitudinal shift within the COE to that position. The following passage from the Preface of the Report is particularly interesting and echoes the UN Committee on Torture’s conclusion last year that incommunicado detention in itself might be considered torture or inhuman and degrading treatment:

It is disturbing, at the beginning of the 21st century, to be obliged to recall basic principles long enshrined in both national and international law and which one had assumed would be inviolate. Deprivation of liberty must be based upon grounds and procedures established by law, be formally recorded, and be open to review by a judicial authority. Further, all persons deprived of their liberty by a public authority should be held in facilities which are officially recognised for this purpose and placed under the responsibility of a clearly identifiable entity. The practice of secret detention constitutes a complete repudiation of these principles.

Secret detention can certainly be considered to amount in itself to a form of ill-reatment, both for the person detained and for members of his or her family. Further, the removal of fundamental safeguards which secret detention entails – the lack of judicial control or of any other form of oversight by an external authority (such as the ICRC) and the absence of guarantees such as access to a lawyer – inevitably heightens the risk of resort to ill-treatment. And in the light of the information now in the public domain, there can be little doubt that the interrogation techniques applied in the CIA-run facilities concerned have led to violations of the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

Refugee & Migrants’ Rights Intern – AI

Amnesty International are seeking a refugee & migrants’ rights intern for six-months. Applicants should send a CV, cover letter and volunteer application form to positions[at] by 11 October. The details of the post are as follows:
Hours of work: 20 hours per week
Duration: Six
Reports to: Research & Legal Manager

Main Tasks
These would be decided in conjunction with the Research & Legal Manager on the basis of needs of section and experience, competencies and interests of intern/volunteer but could include:

1. To respond to provide advice and assistance with individual applications for refugee status in Ireland. This includes assessing whether such cases fall within AI’s Mandate and AI policies on refugee work, and determining the risk of human rights abuses facing such applicants if returned to their country of origin or to a third country.

2. To provide AI information on the human rights situation in refugee-producing countries to relevant authorities, lawyers and non-governmental organisations.
3. To assist the Research & Legal Manager in monitoring and appraising asylum and migration policies, law and practices of the Irish Government. This includes researching, preparing and writing external reports and internal briefing papers on AI’s concerns.
4. To follow legislative and political asylum and migration-related developments at the European Union (EU) level and to lobby the Irish Government where necessary, in conjunction with the Research & Legal Manager and AI’s EU office.
5. To respond to requests from the public for information on AI’s work in the area of asylum and immigration.

In addition, the post holder may be required to undertake any other duties as may be assigned by the Research & Legal Manager from time to time in addition to or in lieu of the duties detailed above.

Skills Required

· Knowledge of and interest in refugee and migrant rights
· Knowledge of and interest in Irish political structures
· Fluency in spoken and written English
· Excellent written and verbal communication skills
· Keen interest in and/or experience in Amnesty International and its mission
· Knowledge of Microsoft Office, with experience in Lotus Notes an advantage
· Background in immigration law a distinct advantage
· Flexibility
· Fluency in other languages an advantage but not a requirement

Developments in the Irish Defence Forces

The Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea, yesterday appointed Ireland’s first military judge. The position of military judge replaces the judge-advocate in defence legislation (Defence (Amendment) act 2007). At the ceremony appointing Colonel Tony Mc Court to the position, the Minister also discussed the possibility of up to 350 members of the Defence Forces going to Chad and the Central African Republic as part of the EU’s UN-mandated peacekeeping force. (SC Resolution 1778 (25 September 2007)).

Irish soldiers currently serve in a number of international peacekeeping missions and last year’s Defence (Amendment) Act 2006 ought to ensure that military personnel would have all necessary training, including international legal training, to enable their participation in overseas UN peace support operations. That Act also allows for the ordered deployment of Irish military personally in humanitarian operations necessitated by natural disasters for which personnel previously had to volunteer.

New Frontiers in Public Consultation

The New Zealand government has recently opened a wiki (i.e. an online page where anyone can make revisions and suggest phrasing) for the country’s Policing Act, intended to substantially revise the Police Act 1958. According to Superintendent Hamish McCardle, who is overseeing the legislative review, this “novel” approach to public consultation “will yeild a range of views from people interested in having a direct say on the shape of a new Policing Act” (NZ Police press release).

This is a truly innovative approach to law-making and given that the proposals will gop before a parliamentary committee and the Bill will proceed in the normal parliamentary fashion following the closure of the wiki-page there should be relatively little risk of unwise, overly reactive or sensational provisions being enacted (at least, it is unlikely that the risk is greater than normal). This strategy appears to take ‘participatory democracy’ to a potentially exciting level and, with the appropriate safeguards, ought to act as an interesting experiment for other governments to consider.

Call for Papers: Complementing IHL

The Minerva Centre for Human Rights (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) and the ICRC (Tel Aviv delegation) have just issued a call for papers for a conference to be held in June 2008, entitled “Complementing IHL: Exploring the Need for Additional Norms to Govern Contemporary Conflict Situations”. The call describes the purpose of the conference thus:

The conference aims to critically examine the adaptability of IHL to what might be regarded as new conflict situations and to try to identify potential areas of under-regulation – conflict situations that may be inadequately regulated by IHL. The conference will then explore the potential of developing or reinterpreting IHL or locating non-IHL normative sources, which may apply to those potential areas of under-regulation or inspire the creation of new bodies of law. Such alternative sources may include or relate to human rights law (perhaps subject to more flexible conditions for application), but they might also include the laws of state responsibility and general principles of law, such as the principle of good neighbourliness and the prohibition against abuse of right. Other legal regimes governing activities with cross-border effects, such as international environmental law and international economic law, may serve as a source of inspiration for developing such general principles. The conference seeks to study the potential for developing or reinterpreting IHL, as well as other legal regimes that could possibly complement IHL and apply to new conflict situations, in ways that are conducive to the attainment of IHL’s overriding goals: the mitigation of harm and suffering and the promotion of humanitarian interests, even in times of conflict.

The deadline for abstract submissions is 1 December 2007 and people will be notified by 1 January 2008. The email address is mchr[at]

General Assembly 62nd Session

The 62nd session of the UN General Assembly began yesterday in New York. The agenda is available here. One of the most widely publicised elements of the opening session thus far is the Secretary General’s call for “an internal climate change at the UN” which would result in a more proactive and results-oriented organisation and his particular emphasis on Darfur, Iraq and Burma.

Both President Bush and President Ahmadinejad addressed the Assembly. President Bush called for reform of the Human Rights Council (which UN Watch had also stressed a number of days previously) and a more even-handed organisation in which all repressive regimes were denounced and democracy promoted. President Ahmadinejad called for the promotion of the General Assembly as the primary pillar of the UN and the promotion of tolerance and fraternity among states. In relation to Iran’s development of nuclear capabilities he asserted the country’s complete compliance with international law and urged the depoliticisation of the matter (a theme he also discussed in an earlier address at Columbia University – transcript).

In his first address to the General Assembly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged universal interdependence and called for the strengthening of the United Nations and the promotion of nuclear non-proliferation, making express reference to the development of Iranian nuclear power saying “if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region and the world”.

US Supreme Court to Hear Death Penalty Case

The US Supreme Court yesterday confirmed that it would hear Baze v. Rees (07-543) in the upcoming term. The case will involve the Court in considering what standard ought to be used to determine whether a particular combination of chemicals used in a lethal injection causes excessive pain and suffering and ought not to be allowed. The case does not involve an imminent execution, therefore it is unlikely that briefing and hearings will be expedited, but it will mark the first time the Court has considered the constitutionality of various methods of execution since Wilkerson v. Utah, decided in 1878.

See the petition for certiorari here and the supplemental filing here.

In a tangential development, Italy yesterday urged UN member states to consider imposing a global moritorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition – UN News Centre report.