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Impunity for Nazi crimes

Forced Labor during WW IIThe International Court of Justice recently promulgated a judgment which calls into question both the relevance and function of international law. Unwittingly, it  declared that Nazi Germany is entitled to impunity for acts of forced labor that it committed during World War II.

In its February 3, 2012 decision in the case of Germany vs. Italy, the court ruled that the principle of sovereign immunity from suits is a customary norm of international law that cannot be infringed unless waived by the state. This immunity subsists even if the claim against it is for violation of a peremptory norm, referred to as “jus cogens” in international law. It also ruled that state assets are also immune from execution

The case arose because of a series of Italian domestic court decisions awarding civil damages against Germany for forced labor committed during World War II.  While Germany has acknowledged that it committed grave breaches of international humanitarian law during the war, it nonetheless insists that claims against it for damages should be brought pursuant to its domestic law authorizing payment of compensation to individuals for these breaches and before German courts. Unfortunately, German courts barred compensation for forced labor for individuals with the status of a Prisoner of War. This is because the Germany insists that under the Geneva Conventions, POWs may be compelled to work by the detaining power.

In a case involving Luigi Ferrini who claimed to have been forcibly deported from Italy to Germany and made to work in a munitions factory, the Italian court ruled that Germany may not invoke state immunity for the commission of an international crime which at the same time, is covered by a jus cogens prohibition. The Court then awarded Ferrini damages and sought to enforce its decision against a real property owned by Germany in Italy. Hence, Germany’s resort to the ICJ.

The ICJ upheld Germany’s claim of immunity by ruling that under customary international law, the rule remains that a state is absolutely immune from suits for acts committed by its military troops in the territory of the forum. Furthermore, it stressed that under customary law, a violation of a jus cogens norm, even if acknowledged, as it was by Germany, cannot result in waiver of state immunity. In both points, the court enumerated a long list of state practice in the form of legislation and court decisions indicating that other than for Italian and Greek judicial decisions, the principle of state immunity as derived from the principle of sovereign equality of states remains to be firmly rooted in international law.

In ruling in the manner that it did, the ICJ  applied an already disregarded notion that international law is only about the application of legal rules. In fact, bulk of the Court’s opinion was devoted to an examination of what the law is, assuming perhaps that what is may be divorced from why it is law and what it seeks to accomplish. International law is law only because states accept it as such. While states may have varying reasons why they acknowledge it to be law, the fact remains that like all laws, international law forms part of normative system. It prescribes conduct deemed beneficial to all of humanity and prohibits conducts that are otherwise.

This means that in the application of rules, the Court should have considered what is more beneficial to humanity: the cold application of the principle of sovereign immunity or the primacy of protecting civilian and POWS in times of armed conflict. While it is true that sovereign equality of states is a foundational principle of the law, the same is true also of the principle that that human rights have also ceased to be purely domestic issue.

The fact that the ICJ gave primacy to the principle of sovereign immunity from suits ignores why these rules exist in the first place; that is, to protect the interests of individuals and not the interest of an artificial being that is a state. As some have noted, international law protects for instance, the environment—not because the ocean or the air should be protected as such. We do so ultimately because human beings require clean water and air.

True, the Court expressly said that its ruling does not affect the liability of state agents when they themselves commit egregious acts. But why should there be a distinction? Precisely because a state can only act only though its agent, there should be no distinction hence between suits against the state itself and against its agents.

The Court also engaged in face-saving when it said that its decision is without prejudice to the liability of the German state for the commission of an internationally wrongful act. But what use is this when victims are bereft of a remedy under domestic law? Who will authorize the award of compensation to the victims when current state practice still deny individuals a standing to bring claims under international law? Certainly, similar claims to that of Ferrini’s were rejected by the European Court of Human Rights on jurisdictional grounds.

There is clearly more merit in the lone dissenting opinion written by a former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Judge Antonio Trindande: “The Court’s decision … seems more open and receptive to the sensitivities of States than to the victimized human beings, subjected to deportation and sent to forced labor.”


ATENEO, alma mater of Justice Del Castillo and his legal researcher, rebukes SC’s definition of plagiarism

Treatment of Plagiarism Cases in the Loyola Schools in Light of the Recent Supreme Court Decision

date posted: 2010-11-05 08:33:12

4 November 2010

MEMO TO: The Loyola Schools Community

FROM: John Paul C. Vergara

Vice President for the Loyola Schools

SUBJECT: Treatment of Plagiarism Cases in the Loyola Schools

in Light of the Recent Supreme Court Decision

On October 12, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision on A.M.

No.10-7-17-SC (In the Matter of the Charges of Plagiarism, etc.

against Associate Justice Mariano C. Castillo), where it was indicated that “plagiarism presupposes intent, and a deliberate, conscious effort to steal another’s work and pass it off as one’s own”. Since this statement seems to contradict what has long been our understanding of the essential nature of plagiarism, the Loyola Schools of the Ateneo de Manila University is compelled to issue this memorandum restating its policy and practices that relate to acts of plagiarism:

1. The Loyola Schools takes very seriously all cases of academic dishonesty including acts of plagiarism.

2. As articulated in the Loyola Schools Code of Academic Integrity (A Student Guide), the objective act of “plagiarism is identified not through intent but through the act itself. The objective act of falsely attributing to one’s self what is not one’s work, whether intentional or out of neglect, is sufficient to conclude that plagiarism has occured. Students who plead ignorance or appeal to lack of malice are not excused.”

3. Aspects pertaining to intent are considered during the determination of the appropriate sanctions. The specific context of the violation is studied to ensure that the sanctions are proportional to the gravity of the offense, which incorporates awareness, willfulness, and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, among others.

4. The foregoing Supreme Court decision notwithstanding, the Loyola Schools’ understanding and definition of what constitutes plagiarism has not changed. Cases of plagiarism will continue to be handled in the same manner, and with the same regard for due process, as stipulated in the Student Handbook.

The Loyola Schools reiterates its position that academic honesty and the acknowledgement of sources is not simply a matter of the correct use of quotation marks, placement of footnotes, or acquisition of permissions; it is a question of personal discipline and moral character. The school’s resolve on the stringent requirements in the proper acknowledgement of sources goes to the heart of its mission in forming persons for others-persons who value truth, respect, gratitude, integrity and justice.

VINUYA, the Comfort Women Petition: A CLASS PROJECT

It was my first year of full time  teaching at UP Law when Dean Raul Pangalangan and I decided that we should teach a separate elective on International Humanitarian Law. This was a result of a series of training programs that the UP Law Center co-sponsored with the International Committee of the Red Cross on […] More →

Plagiarism and Kidnapping

The Supreme Court last week promulgated a decision that Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno described in her dissent as one that would create “unimaginable problems for the academia” on how they would hence discipline students and researchers for plagiarism. Justice Sereno was particularly concerned with the majority’s decisions that plagiarism requires intent, which according to her, […] More →