The Irish Famine Tribunal: New York April 20 and 21

The Irish Famine of 1845-1852 (also known as the Great Hunger or An Gorta Mór) is one of the most catastrophic famines in modern history. It is estimated that over one million people died, two and half million emigrated within ten years, and almost 300,000 smallholdings disappeared.

On April 20-21, 2013, Fordham Law School will be hosting the Irish Famine Tribunal to examine the responsibility of the British Government, under international law, for the tragic consequences of this period. Was it the case, as John Mitchel famously (or infamously) asserted, that “the Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine”?

The Tribunal will consider whether the British role during the Famine amounted to either genocide or a crime against humanity. Prosecution and defence teams, including law students from Fordham Law School and Dublin City University, will present their cases before an international panel of judges: Judge Fidelma Macken, recently retired from the Supreme Court of Ireland and the first female judge to sit on the European Court of Justice; Judge John Ingram, a renowned New York Supreme Court judge who has presided over many high profile criminal trials; and, Judge William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University in London, chairman of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland Galway, and widely considered the world’s leading authority on genocide.

Joining them will be authors Tim Pat Coogan (“The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy”) and John Kelly (“The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People”), along with historians Dr. Ciarán Ó Murchadha (“The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony 1845-1852”) and Dr. Ruan O’Donnell, Head of the Department of History at the University of Limerick.

In 1997, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that “[t]hose who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy.” Does that failure, however, give rise to liability under international criminal law?

Amongst the other questions that will be asked:

·     Were the repeated, devastating failures of the potato crop beyond the power of any government, in the context of the time, to effectively manage?

·     Was Ireland particularly vulnerable to famine and, if so, why?

·     What relief efforts were made?

·     How responsive was the government in London to reports from relief officials in Ireland?

·     How influential were laissez-faire and providentialist ideologies?

·     Did British policy makers take advantage of the Famine to “reform” Irish society?

·     Was it only the British government that stood by while Ireland starved?

·     What part was played by landlords, merchants, big farmers, shopkeepers and, more generally, the Irish middle classes?


The Irish Famine Tribunal will be held at Fordham University Law School, 142 W. 62nd Street, New York City April 20: 10:00 am and April 21: 11:00 am.

If any of our readers are in the New York area they can RSVP at

For further information, please email: or contact Owen Rodgers at (917) 379-0955


As the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Completes its Final Trial, the Search for Historical Consensus Begins

Christmas is a notoriously convenient time to bury bad news, but it may also have the unfortunate effect of obscuring more positive developments.  The passing of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda‘s (ICTR) final trial judgment on December 20th in Arusha, Tanzania is one of those, representing the first time any of the fully international criminal tribunal completed its trial phase (It should be pointed out that some of the court’s indicted suspects remain at large, most notably former Minister of Defence Augustin Bizimana, and so in theory the Tribunal may be revived, but this is thought by observers to be unlikely). The Tribunal convicted Augustin Ngirabatware of directing Hutus in the northwestern district of Nyamyumba to kill Tutsis and  distributing weapons to militants to achieve this end. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The tribunal will close down permanently in 2014, after attending to 15 appeals that remain. Continue reading As the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Completes its Final Trial, the Search for Historical Consensus Begins

Event at UCC: The International Criminal Court a Decade On

The International Criminal Court came into existence on the 1st July 2002. The Court is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court to be established. It was established under the Rome Statute as a significant step forward in ensuring all those who commit the most serious of crimes, such as genocide and crimes against humanity, can be brought to justice. The court therefore stands as an institution that can assist in ending impunity for atrocities that call for an international response. The ICC is currently dealing with 16 cases in seven situations; six of these cases are presently at trial stage. Earlier this year, the court reached a significant milestone in its tenth year when it delivered its first verdict in the Prosecutor v. Lubanga case. In that judgment the accused was found guilty of war crimes relating to the enlistment, conscription and use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A series of events celebrating the first ten years of the ICC have been held around the globe, reflecting both the achievements of the court to date, and also its many challenges and limitations. This event is part of that series and will reflect on the past and future of international criminal justice at the ICC

Chair: Dr. Vittorio Bufacchi (Department of Philosophy, UCC)

5:30 Welcome – Dr. Fiona Donson (CCJHR, Faculty of Law, UCC)

5:35-6:05 Ms. Justice Harding-Clark

“The ICC – a ten year assessment”

6:05-6:35 Mr. Peter Robinson

“Do International Criminal Courts Deter Atrocities?–a Defence Counsel’s Perspective”

6:35-7:00 Questions and Discussion

7:00 Wine reception – Staff Restaurant Continue reading Event at UCC: The International Criminal Court a Decade On

Assessing Lubanga

Human Rights in Ireland is delighted to welcome this guest post from Julie McBride. Julie is a PhD Candidate at Queen’s University Belfast, researching the development of the war crime of child soldier recruitment in international criminal law, and a member of the United Nations Global Experts, specialising in international crime and transitional jus


In the same week as Kony 2012 broke viral video records and the issue of child soldiers became the ‘cause du jour’, the International Criminal Court handed down its first judgment, in a case that had focused solely on the issue. At the end of an epic three-year trial that had suffered frequent delays and interruptions, Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was found guilty of recruiting children for use in armed conflict.

Lubanga’s crimes took place during a tribal conflict between the Hema and Lendu in the eastern district of Ituri that took place between 2000 and 2003. The conflict was exacerbated by the involvement of the Ugandan army and by the attractive presence of a variety of rich mineral deposits in the region. Lubanga admitted being the founding president of the Union of the Congolese Patriots (UPC), a Hema political party, but denied leading its military wing, the FPLC. However, Prosecutors at the ICC argued that he had played a military role with the aim of maintaining and expanding his control over Ituri and its gold reserves. Lubanga was arrested in 2005 by Congolese authorities on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, Continue reading Assessing Lubanga

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine

I participated as a witness at the South Africa session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine which took place last month in Cape Town, from 5-7 November. The Tribunal was founded in the 1950s by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, and originally hosted by Jean-Paul Sartre. Formally calling itself the International War Crimes Tribunal, it deliberated over two sessions in 1967 on the issue of American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam. The overall aim, according to Russell in 1967, was to arouse consciousness in order to create mass resistance “in the smug streets of Europe and the complacent cities of North America”, and “prevent the crime of silence”. Continue reading The Russell Tribunal on Palestine

British prosecutor appointed to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia announced today that Andrew T. Cayley has been appointed the a new international co-prosecutor for the UN-backed court in Cambodia . The ECCC’s statement said over the last two years, Mr. Cayley, has been in private practice, defending Charles Taylor before the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Ivan Cermak before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Prior to this he served as Prosecuting Counsel at ICTY from 1995-2001, the first three years being seconded from the British army by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the ICTY. Cayley has also served as senior prosecuting counsel for the International Criminal Court investigating crimes in Darfur

The news is significant because Robert Petit, former international co-prosecutor resigned some six months ago and has not been replaced until now. The last two years of the Khmer Rouge trials has seen persistent division between him and the Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang over prosecution policy as he attempted to spread accountability wider while. Continue reading British prosecutor appointed to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Blawg Review #239

(photo credit)

‘Main of the Match: Appalling Conflations and Tenuous Links As An Island Recovers From A Close Brush With Injustice…

Today HRinI is pleased to host this week’s Blawg Review, following in the footsteps of previous Irish hosts Daithí Mac Síthigh and Eoin O’Dell. Blawg Review presents a selection of the best of the past week’s blogging on legal issues.

The post which follows falls far short of what Marco Giloarmi called for on Wednesday when he outlined his conception of a Republic of Legal Letters. But, these are difficult times for Ireland, and the wonder is really that I can bring myself to blog at all. While the legal blogosphere has mostly been excited about Google Scholar’s new law search functionality, the Irish have had altogether more important things to worry about. The nation as Tom Humphries has it in the Irish Times, stands in ‘a cold and deep puddle of reality‘ (for much of the country, all too literally ) after a bruising encounter with France in the World Cup playoffs, reported by MSNBC here under the fabulous headline ‘Oui were robbed‘. Thierry, how could you? (Twitter yields up such gems as ‘If I even SEE a croissant tomorrow…‘ and our readers from abroad can measure the national mood by its tried and tested barometer Liveline – here and here). Kevin Jon Heller discusses the matter with the respect it deserves here on the venerable Opinio Juris. The debacle has been treated as a priority by our political leaders. It was raised in the Dáil on Thursday morning, the Taoiseach discussed it with President Sarkozy, (who was unmoved – perhaps the Taoiseach should have brushed up on his bargaining skills at Negotiation Board) and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has demanded a rematch.

Continue reading Blawg Review #239

Hayes on Karadžić Trial

ICTYVia Kevin Heller at the wonderful Opinio Juris comes a post alerting us to the guest contribution of Niamh Hayes, PhD Candidate in the Irish Centre for Human Rights, to the International Criminal Law Bureau blog on the progress of the Karadžić trial and particularly on the Tribunal’s options in relation to the claim of insufficient time to prepare a defence. Niamh is currently interning with the Karadžić defence team in the ICTY. Her detailed and very well reasoned post is worth reading in full. Here is a taste:

The Tribunal’s decisions in this regard and whether they amount to penalising Dr. Karadžić for having the unmitigated temerity to insist on exercising his acknowledged right to self-representation have been discussed elsewhere and could easily form the subject of an entire post. What is worth noting is that, despite the almost uniform characterisation by the media of Dr. Karadžić’s absence this week as intentionally disruptive, politically motivated or equivalent to the obstructive tactics employed by Slobodan Milošević or Vojislav Šešelj, up to this point he has shown exemplary and consistent co-operation with the Tribunal. Perhaps a better comparison would be with Charles Taylor, who famously refused to attend court and fired his defence team on the opening day of his trial in June 2007, after many months of failed motions to be granted adequate time or facilities for his defence. Taylor also submitted a letter to the Court which explained his decision not to attend the trial, and outlined fair trial concerns quite similar to those highlighted by Dr. Karadžić last week. The letter famously concluded “I choose not to be the figleaf of legitimacy for this process.”


The options now facing the Trial Chamber are not particularly enticing. However, it is to be hoped that its decision will be reached with the highest regard for the fairness of the trial and the rights of the accused, rather than penalising supposed ‘obstructionism’ or satisfying the stringent time pressures imposed by the Completion Strategy. The Tribunal has endured some deeply disrespectful and disruptive behaviour from other defendants who availed of the right to self-representation for negative reasons. If the current impasse can be negotiated, the Karadžić trial may provide a positive example, similar to that of Charles Taylor, where addressing concerns which are raised through necessarily dramatic means ultimately facilitates a fair, prepared, courteous and co-operative defence.

Evidence Concluded in First Khmer Rouge Trial

The Khmer Rouge tribunal in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Thursday concluded the hearing of evidence in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, after 72 days of substantive hearings. He is best known for heading the Khmer Rouge special branch and running the infamous Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp in Phnom Penh. On July 31, 2007, Duch was formally charged with crimes against humanity and detained by the hybrid tribunal. He was prosecuted by international co prosecutors William Smith and Anees Ahmed and charged “of personally overseeing the systematic torture of more than 15,000 prisoners.” In his final testimony, Duch accepted responsibility for his role in overseeing the prison and asked for forgiveness from the families of the victims, gestures he has made several times during the trial. He also told the court that he was ready to accept heavy punishment for his actions. He has denied personally killing or torturing the S-21 prisoners, and said he felt compelled by fear for his own life to follow the orders of senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

Continue reading Evidence Concluded in First Khmer Rouge Trial