The Int. Law Observer Blog is continuously looking for enthusiastic master student(s) or Ph.D. candidate(s) willing to assist with editorial work on the Blog. Interested? Find out more here.

Headline »

Edited volume: ‘An Institutional Approach to the Responsibility to Protect’, Cambridge University Press, 2016 (paperback)

20/08/2016 – 2:47 pm |

My edited book entitled ‘An Institutional Approach to the Responsibility to Protect’ has recently been published as paperback by Cambridge University Press (35 GBP).
Through its 22 chapters, covering

the responsibilities of the State;
the main political organs of the UN;
important regional and security organizations;
international judicial institutions and the regional human rights protection systems;

the book examines the roles and responsibilities of the international community regarding the responsibility to …

Read the full story »

Academia, Guest Blogging, Human Rights, International and National Law, Literature, Non Governmental Organizations, Non-State Actors, Publications, Rule of Law, Scholarship, States, United Nations, University »

Detention safeguards – the key to preventing torture (Part Two)

20/08/2016 – 1:46 pm | One Comment

By Richard Carver, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and Governance, Oxford Brookes University.

Richard Carver has more than 30 years of experience as a human rights researcher, working for Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19, and a number of UN agencies. He has published extensively on national human rights institutions, particularly on criteria and techniques for measuring performance, impact and effectiveness. Originally an Africa specialist, his current work focuses on southeastern Europe. He holds a PhD in Human Rights and an LLM in International Law, both from Oxford Brookes University, where he is Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and Governance.

In my previous post, I explained the methodology behind our research on torture prevention and summarized the main findings. The answer to our question Does Torture Prevention Work? was “yes.” Prevention mechanisms generally reduce the incidence of torture. However, some mechanisms, notably those that protect detainees in the first hours and days after arrest, are more important than others. Complaints bodies (such as Ombudsman institutions) had no detectable preventive effect in the countries that we studied. This does not mean that complaints mechanisms “don’t work.” They may still provide an important remedy (in the broad sense) for individuals. However, the findings of complaints bodies do not appear to deter the authorities from continuing to torture.

The legal obligations on states are strongest in relation to the criminalization and prosecution of torture and the creation of monitoring bodies (in the Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol respectively). While we found both of these sets of measures to have positive impact, neither was as important as detention safeguards, which are less strongly protected in international law. Anti-torture activists have long argued that the greatest risk of torture is immediately upon arrest and that a preventive strategy should rest upon eliminating incommunicado detention; in Nigel Rodley’s words, torture is a “crime of opportunity.” Amnesty International’s 12-point programme against torture, launched in 1984, reflected this priority. Yet the Convention Against Torture, adopted in the same year, merely says (in Article 11) that states should keep detention and interrogation rules under review. More explicit protection comes in the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, but of course these are non-binding.

By all methods of analysis that we used, detention safeguards emerged as the most important protection against torture (provided that they are implemented in practice rather than just being on the statute book). It is important to note that, according to our analysis, other background factors also helped to explain whether or not torture took place: the level of democracy, economic development and conflict. But, even taking these other variables into account detention safeguards have a positive effect.

One of the most important measures is the elimination of unofficial detention. Many countries in our study, at some point over the past 30 years, have evaded the rules protecting detainees by simply holding them in unauthorized detention centres. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, police continue to bypass detention safeguards and a monitoring body by not immediately taking people they arrest into official custody (and also not notifying their family or friends).

Other case studies from our research show the positive impact of improved detention rules. In the United Kingdom, for example, the decisive step in almost completely eliminating torture from the criminal justice system was the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in 1984. In particular, PACE introduced a duty solicitor scheme that ensured automatic free legal representation in every police station, which is regarded by British human rights activists as being crucial to the elimination of torture. It also introduced electronic recording of all investigative interviews of suspects.

Likewise, in Turkey, with the incentive of membership of the European Union, from 1999 successive governments introduced a series of new safeguards for detainees, which resulted in a dramatic improvement in the incidence of torture. Unfortunately, at the very end of our period of study, over the past four years or so, many of these safeguards have been neglected and the incidence of torture has risen again.

When torture persists, this is often because exceptions are built into the protections and safeguards, most often for reasons of national security or counter-terrorism. This is the case, for example, with Israel where the criminal justice system effectively protects the rights of suspects. In the occupied Palestinian territories, by contrast, none of these safeguards exists. Not surprisingly, this is where torture occurs.

The countries that we studied varied enormously in the resources available to support the criminal justice system, from Norway to Ethiopia. However, across the board we found that reducing reliance on confession evidence had a positive impact in reducing torture. Of course, torture occurs for a variety of reasons and extracting confessions or other testimony is only one of these. In some countries, such as South Africa, the punitive role of torture was seen as important. Nevertheless, torture in the countries we studied was overwhelmingly used as a means to obtain evidence. As alternative sources of evidence become available, the incentive to torture is reduced.

In many instances these alternative sources may be electronic surveillance, as in Turkey, or cellular phone data (as in South Africa). Of course, this development has been greatest in countries with more resources to devote to advanced forensic techniques, but we observed it as a general phenomenon. One Turkish activist described it to us thus: “Previously the police would reach evidence through the accused; now they reach the accused through evidence.”

In at least two countries in our study, a similar point was illustrated through the reverse process. Both Georgia and Kyrgyzstan lost a large number of trained police investigators with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The immediate effect in both instances was a dramatic rise in the incidence of torture. Clearly the Soviet system was not a model of respect for detainees’ rights, but the deprofessionalization of police work nevertheless had a very serious impact.

As our Philippines researcher Ricardo Sunga wrote: “Torture is a shortcut, a substitute for good police work.” Training police to do their job professionally is clearly an important part of the preventive puzzle.

In the third and final post in this series, I will discuss the gap between law and practice in torture prevention.

Does Torture Prevention Work? (First Part)

16/08/2016 – 9:47 am | One Comment

By Richard Carver, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and Governance, Oxford Brookes University
Richard Carver has more than 30 years of experience as a human rights researcher, working for Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19, and a number of UN agencies. He has published extensively on national human rights institutions, particularly on criteria and techniques for measuring performance, impact and effectiveness. Originally an Africa specialist, his …

PluriCourts Conference: Strengthening the Validity of International Criminal Tribunals, 29-30 August, Oslo

05/08/2016 – 3:20 pm |

International criminal law (ICL) re-emerged onto the global stage in the 1990s in a flood of good will and optimism. Two decades later, with its honeymoon stage well behind it, states, practitioners, scholars and others are asking where we go from here. This conference will bring together a mix of practitioners and scholars from the field of international criminal justice to exchange perspectives and to suggest …

PluriCourts Conference: ‘Adjudicating international trade and investment disputes: between interaction and isolation’, 25-26 August, Oslo

19/06/2016 – 12:06 pm |

The PluriCourts Centre of Excellence at the University of Oslo will host a two day conference on international trade and investment disputes.
The conference will take place on Thursday and Friday, August 25-26 at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, Norway.
The webpage with the final programme and registration information is available here.
For more information, please contact: Daniel Behn, PluriCourts (
The conference will focus on …

Lex Petrolea – Reality or Myth?, London, 21 June 2016

20/05/2016 – 11:07 am |

 The Institute of International Shipping and Trade Law of Swansea University will organise a joint one-day seminar on the subject of Lex Petrolea with the Center for Energy, Law, and Business of University of Texas Law School on 21 June 2016 in London.
For the flyer see here.
For further information see here.

6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, Oslo, 21-23 June 2016

12/05/2016 – 6:26 pm |

Since 2001, Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) organises the World Congresses Against the Death Penalty. These international events bring together thousands of members of civil society, political representatives, lawyers and journalists from the five continents with the aim of developing new strategies for universal abolition. After Strasburg in 2001, Montreal in 2004, Paris in 2007, Geneva in 2010 and Madrid in 2013, Oslo is hosting the 6th World Congress from …

12th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL), Riga, 8-10 September 2016

12/05/2016 – 2:53 pm |

The 12th ESIL Annual Conference will be held in Riga on Thursday 8 – Saturday 10 September 2016. ESIL Interest Group events will be organised, as usual, on the day before the conference, on Wednesday 7 September.
The theme of the conference is: How International Law Works in Times of Crisis.
The conference is hosted by the Riga Graduate School of Law in cooperation with the Latvian Constitutional …

A Virtual Wall of Shame: The New Way of Imposing Reputational Sanctions on Defiant States

03/05/2016 – 2:13 pm |

iCourts associate professor Shai Dothan has published a new paper: “A Virtual Wall of Shame: The New Way of Imposing Reputational Sanctions on Defiant States”. The article is forthcoming in the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law.
What happens after an international court finds a state violated international law? Many realize today that states often fail to comply with such judgments. International …

The Internationalisation of Constitutional Law: An Australian Perspective

13/04/2016 – 10:44 am |

By Katherine Quinn
Katherine is an Australian lawyer currently studying a Masters in International Public Law at the University of Oslo.  She completed her Bachelor degree in law at the Australian National University in Canberra.  Previously she has worked as an Associate to Judge Warwick Neville in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and completed an internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  She …

Eighteenth Summer Session of Salzburg Law School on International Criminal Law, Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, ‘Achieving International Criminal Justice by Safeguarding the Principle of Equality for Unequal Perpetrators of Crimes Under International Law’

08/04/2016 – 12:23 pm |

The Salzburg Law School on International Criminal Law, Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law (SLS) welcomes applications for its Eighteenth Summer Session, Sunday 31 July to Wednesday 10 August 2016. Under the title ‘Achieving International Criminal Justice by Safeguarding the Principle of Equality for Unequal Perpetrators of Crimes Under International Law’, SLS 2016 will assess the roles and interplay of individual perpetrators within a macro-criminal context from …

iCourts lanches new database on international courts

05/04/2016 – 1:58 pm |

Today the Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) embedded in the Faculty of law, University of Copenhagen, lauched a new and original database on international courts.
The database makes the judgments of international courts easily accessible to researchers and can be accessed at
The database currently makes two datasets available on the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). In …

CfP: ‘International Law and a Dynamic Asia’, Asian Society of International Law Regional Conference, Ha Noi, 14-15 June 2016

03/04/2016 – 11:48 am | One Comment

Asian Society of International Law Regional Conference
‘International Law and a Dynamic Asia’
Ha Noi, 14-15 June 2016 
The 2016 Regional Conference of the Asian Society of International Law will take place in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, hosted by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. The Conference will consist of plenary sessions and a number of agorae. In addition, the Conference will feature two special agorae on the …

Tribunal convicts Radovan Karadžić for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and sentences him to 40 years imprisonment

27/03/2016 – 5:36 pm |

* Post based entirely on the ICTY Press Release, 24 March 2016. An analysis of the main factual and legal findings of this case will follow in early April.
For more information on the case visit the following links:
Radovan Karadžić Case – Key information & Timeline
Judgment Summary
Judgment, four volumes compiled
Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) today convicted Radovan Karadžić, former President …

iCourts working paper no. 50 published

21/03/2016 – 2:32 pm |

The Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) has published its 50th working paper.
You can access all 50 working papers here.
Working paper number 50: “EU Law Classics in the Making: Methodological Notes on Grands Arrêts at the European Court of Justice” was written by professor Antoine Vauchez of Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and permanent visiting professor to iCourts. The abstract reads:
To a large extent, EU …

Reminder: Call for Papers on ‘General Issues in International and European Law’

15/03/2016 – 8:06 am |

The Utrecht Journal of International and European Law is issuing a Call for Papers to be published in its 83rd edition in summer 2016 on ‘General Issues’ within International and European law.
The Board of Editors invites submissions addressing any aspect of International and European law; topics may include, but are not limited to, European Union law, International and European
Human Rights Law, International and European Criminal Law, Transnational …

CfP: The International Law of Military Operations: Mapping the Field, 21–23 June 2016, Exeter, United Kingdom

09/03/2016 – 12:33 pm |

Conference Theme
Military deployments in the territory of other States are subject to a diverse range of rules under international law. In recent years, it has become increasingly common to refer to these rules as ‘operations law’ or the ‘international law of military operations’.
Despite the growing popularity of the term, its meaning and utility remain uncertain. The rules of international law governing military operations are complex …

“The Variable Authority of International Courts:” New special issue of Law and Contemporary Problems

07/03/2016 – 12:51 pm |

“The Variable Authority of International Courts” is the result of a collective endeavour to contribute original and multidisciplinary perspectives on the proliferation and impact of international courts. The volume features articles from widely recognized as well as up-and-coming scholars of internationational courts.
All articles in the special issue can be accessed directly here
The special issue of Law and Contemporary Problems (vol. 79, no. 1, 2016) was …

Call for Papers for the John Westlake Prize

24/02/2016 – 4:49 pm |

This Call for Papers concerns the John Westlake Prize, instituted by the late James B. Scott. All papers relating to the topic on ‘Dispute Settlement before International Courts and Tribunals’ can be submitted to the Institute of International Law until the 31st of December 2016.
Additional information regarding the Prize Regulation can be found on

CfP: “The Rule of Law in Areas of Limited Statehood: Internal and International Dilemmas”, 27-28 June 2016 and 29-30 September 2016

23/02/2016 – 3:04 pm |

The Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, the Lauder School of Governance, Diplomacy and Strategy, IDC (Herzliya), and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung are pleased to announce a call for papers for two workshops on “The Rule of Law in Areas of Limited Statehood: Internal and International Dilemmas”. The workshops will take place in Herzliya (Israel) on 27-28 June 2016 and Leuven (Belgium) on 29-30 September 2016.
Areas …