My Trip to Den Haag & Visiting the ICC

Last week I was lucky enough to travel to The Hauge to visit a friend. While I was there I was extremely insistent that we would go and visit the International Criminal Court as it’s based there. I had researched online beforehand and learnt that you can actually go and sit in on trials, so I was extremely hopeful that this would be possible.

When we got there, the court was on a break so we decided to go on an audio tour and learn a little bit more about what the International Criminal Court actually does. The aim of the ICC is to give victims of mass crimes, who live in countries with very weak or no legal systems a course to justice. This sparked my interest as a huge focus in class is the idea of governance gaps and the difficulties of gaining justice for victims of weaker states. The ICC is based on a treaty known as the Rome Statute, which has been ratified by many states around the world. The treaty came into effect in July 2002, therefore creating the ICC. It was interesting to learn that although the ICC cooperates with the United Nations, it still remains independent of it. Unlike the human rights violations we have been studying, which can only be committed by states, the ICC tries individuals for crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Something I found both interesting but also frustrating is that as the ICC was established in 2002, they cannot persecute retrospectively and therefore the accused cannot be tried for crimes committed before then. Something I have been learning throughout this module is that human rights-based law can be quite disheartening, as justice can be incredibly difficult to achieve. However, this is one of the reasons I’m finding human rights law so very interesting.

After the audio tour, it was time to go sit in on the gallery and watch the trial. It was amazing that they allow members of the public to do this, especially as UK courts are so incredibly private. The person who was on trial that day was Dominic Ongwen, a former senior rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This may be familiar to some, as Dominic Ongwen would have served the infamous viral internet figure, Joseph Kony.

Watching the trial was so interesting, although not a lot really happened in the two hours I was watching for, just to get an idea of how a court of this nature operates was so enlightening. All of the patrons of the court spoke English, however as witnesses spoke other languages, we had to wear headphones and listen to a live translation that was happening in a separate gallery to us. On the day that I was watching the trial, it was the prosecution presenting the case. The questions asked by barristers were so incredibly in depth, you can really see why trials as serious as this can take such a long time.

Although I’m aware this post has next to nothing to do with the business side of my module, I couldn’t resist writing a post on my experience. It’s not every day you get to sit in on a real human rights trial. Despite this, I can still draw comparisons to the aspects of international law that we have been learning about in class. I would love to go back someday and sit on future trials, it was an amazing experience which I won’t forget.

Brook House

This week, a friend told me about a BBC Panorama documentry entitled ‘Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets.’ You can find the link to the episode here, or a nice summary of the documentry has been produced by BBC news here.

The documentry was about an immigration detention centre called ‘Brook House’ in west Sussex. The centre is run by controversial security company G4S, who have been selected to handle the centre by the home office.

The documentry followed Callum Tulley, an employee of the centre, who had become an undercover reporter for the BBC after witnessing the terrible realities of Brook House. The detention centre was being used to lock up detainees for years, without knowledge of when they would be released, or deported. People who were simply in this country illegally were being kept in the same place as serious criminals and the results are dangerous. Callum witnessed suicide attempts, abusive staff and a failing system.

You can’t lock people up, not tell them when they are going to be released, keep them in the same location as dangerous ex prisoners and expect their mental health to stay in tact. You also can’t expect staff to react well and be able to cope with the actions of detainees who are not behaving in a normal manner. From what I saw of the documentry, it did not seem that staff were correctly trained or monitored, in how to deal correctly with the detainees.

Obviously from a moral perpsective, the abusive staff are at fault here. But so are G4S for allowing this behaviour to continue. From a moral and legal perspective, the home office are obviously the ones who must take responsibility for this. How can they employ a company such as G4S, who have a huge list of contraversial behaviour in their past, to look after these people. In the documentary these inmates are treated worse than animals at times. They are seen as inhuman by staff. The way they are treated breaches almost every article within the universal declaration. There was one section of the documentry where one of the security guards forcefully presses his fingers into the neck of one of the inmates, almost choking him. It could be argued that that one act alone breaks article 1, 2, 3 & 5 in that one simple act.

The documentry was filmed back in september, so I did some research on the Business and Human Rights resource centre to see what has happened as a result of the documetary. I found this article.

Thankfully, legal action has launched against the UK government, and it has been recognised that they take responsibility for the actions taken place in Brook House. Even though the abuse was commited by individuals working for G4S, these actions were just a symptom of the wider issues with the current system in place.

HIV Discrimination

I have been recently thinking that I focus too much overall on human rights problems within the UK, and needed to branch out. Therefore, this week I found this article about how workers within the Philippines are being discriminated against because of their HIV status. This means they are being fired because of it, or aren’t even being hired in the first place.

HIV discrimination is something that still happens all over the world, but has been destigmatised greatly in the UK over the past 30 years or so. It’s such a shame that in the Philippines this still happens regularly.

I am aware that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights covers issues to do with workers rights. This kind of discrimination would be breaking part one of article 6 of this covenant:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.

I did a quite google search to see if the Philippines have signed this covenant and they have. They are obviously breaching this by not doing more to protect a human’s right to work.

Although I understand someone with deteriating health may not be an ideal candidate for a job, but here in the UK HIV is no longer a death sentance. Part of the battle to get better medication and cures for conditions is to drop the stigma surrounding them. I do hope that the Philippines takes appropriate action to combat this epidemic.


Torex Gold Mine Blockade

This week I took to a useful resource I have used throughout the year; The Human Rights and Business Resource Centre. I love this resource as it gives you easy access to issues from all over the world that I might otherwise miss using my normal news sources. I clicked on a topic I haven’t looked at before: Freedom of Association. I have to say, I don’t know a lot about this topic (although I probably should.)

A quick google has led me back to the Human Rights Act 1998, more specifically article 11:

Freedom of assembly and association

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

The article I found under this topic was this one which concerns the removal of a Blockade on the Torex Gold mine in Mexico. I didn’t really understand at first what was meant by a blockade but given article 11 of the Human Rights Act I made an assumption it has something to do with protest. I was right! The entrance to the min was physically blocked due to a peaceful protest by some unionised workers wanting a change to their labour rights.

I thought this an interesting topic, as I know that extractive forms of production such as mining are riddled with human rights issues. What I found interesting about the statement that Torex made about the removal of the blockade was that they said:

‘ The blockade led to conflict between communities and denied to thousands of citizens their constitutionally protected right to work.’

This shows the difficulty of human rights issues, as it’s likely that the workers protesting were only doing so to improve working conditions for themselves and their peers. However, in doing so this caused the mine to be closed for a number of months which meant a lot of people local to the area must have been out of work. The mention of conflict is unsuprising as I’m sure the whole event would tear apart a community. Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to combat human rights issues, but then in doing so you can breach the rights of others, in this case the right to work. Which then causes tensions and conflict which can impeach on an individuals right to life. I had to do a bit of digging (pun unintended) on this topic but it was definitely worth it.