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One Word Change and Last-Minute Lawyering Saved Historic Climate Deal

The historic climate change deal by 196 governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions almost wasn't because of one misplaced word, Politico's Andrew Restuccia reports.

On Saturday, lawyers for President Barack Obama's administration found that the text of the agreement had been changed from saying that wealthier countries "should" set economy-wide targets for cutting greenhouse gases to "shall" set such targets. As Restuccia notes, "in the lingo of U.N. climate agreements, 'shall' implies legal obligation and 'should' does not." If the draft stayed with the "shall" obligaton, the accord would have had to go to the Republican-controlled Senate for approval--and probable, inevitable defeat. The concern was that reopening the text would swamp the entire effort, Restuccia reports, but the French hosts of the climate-change summit agreed to change the wording amid a package of technical revisions.

Legal Structure of Global Climate Deal Needs to Be Formed

Climate negotiators are working to finalize the technical aspects of a climate change deal, and they must form the legal structure of the deal as part of that, Responding to Climate Change's Megan Darby reports: "The ultimate goal is a deal this December setting out how countries will cooperate to decarbonise their economies, prepare for the impacts of climate change and support the developing world in both endeavours." Interim talks are being held in Bonn this week.

Palestine Has Joined the International Criminal Court. Now What?

Foreign Affairs' Timothy William Waters suggests that--now that the Palestinian Authority has joined the International Criminal Court and the ICC has acknowledged that Palestine accepts its jurisdiction--there could be trouble for the ICC if it prosecutes a case against Israeli forces operating in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel argues that Palestine is not a state, and the "ICC is a weak institution; prosecuting Israel could prove fatal," Waters writes. On the other hand, avoiding the pursuit of a legitimate case against Israel would make the weak institution irrelevant, especially because ICC has only prosecuted cases in Africa so far, Waters further wrties.

Waters also notes that now that Palestine's citizens can be tried for their own violations: "Standing trial for war crimes is a funny way to prove you’re a state, but if Hamas keeps firing rockets at Israel, Palestinians may get their day in court."

Is There a Right to Be Free From Blasphemy?

Does the right to free speech and free thought end where someone else's freedom of thought and freedom of speech start?

The issue is not an academic one with the killing of several Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists in Paris and with a liberal Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, 1,000 lashes, and a 1 million Saudi riyal fine (roughly $266,000) for insulting Islam, Foreign Policy's Michael Wahid Hanna reports. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has promoted the notion of defamation of religion as a cognizable legal concept, Hanna reports, but "international human rights law remains quite clear on the impermissibility of such discriminatory measures." However, laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation are not rare: "In 2011, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly half the countries in the world have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation," Hanna further reports.

He argues that blasphemy laws are problematic because they chill free thought and inquiry and because authoriarian counties use such laws to suppress minority rights and punish nonconfirmity.

An International Court for Mass Torts?

The Stanford Law Review has an interesting essay from University of Iowa College of Law Professor Maya Steinitz suggesting that there should be an international court of civil justice. Steinitz reasons the civil equivalent for a International Criminal Court would be just for plaintiffs and efficient for corporate defendants. She notes that there is no forum for cross-border torts after the Supreme Court ruled in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. that the Alien Tort Claims Act presumptively does not apply extraterritorially and closed American courts to most cross-border mass torts. "The core reason the problem of the missing forum is deeply troubling is, of course, that it creates an access-to-justice deficit. ... In addition to injustice to individual tort victims, the lack of deterrence leads to a tremendous wealth transfer from the developing to the developed world; the world’s most disempowered constitu­encies internalize the costs of the economic activities of the world’s wealthiest corporations," Steinitz argues.

Legal Concerns of Artificial Reproductive Technologies Still Unaddressed

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations' population division, writes in a post for the Inter Press Service News Agency that artificial reproductive technologies raise legal and ethical concerns that have not been fully resolved yet. Since 1970, five million people are estimated to have been born because of in vitro fertilization. Chamie notes that "gestational surrogacy raises challenging ethical questions, such as the exploitation of poor women, as well as complex legal issues, especially when transactions cross international borders." The same ethical and legal concerns will be raised by the prospect of people asserting their reproductive rights to be cloned and the development of babies outside the human womb in artificial uteruses, he writes: "Anticipated future medical breakthroughs in human reproduction make it even more imperative for the international community of nations to address the growing challenges and concerns regarding reproductive technologies and rights."

Landmark Event On Indigenous Rights Overshadowed

The landmark World Conference of Indigenous Peoples has been far from the limelight "during a frantic week in New York when world leaders gathered to discuss climate change and the security situation in Syria and Iraq," Radio Australia reports. Kalama Oka Aina Niheu, who is from Hawaii, told Radio Australia that the conference did not provide an avenue for indigenous peoples to voice their concerns about climate change and demilitarization because those issues were kept off that UN conference's agenda. The North American Indian Peoples caucus withdrew its support from the conference, she reports. As a result, she expressed a concern that the conference would be turned into an international version of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and "people who are going to be supported and uplifted in this process are going to be people who support extractive industries and who support mechanisms that actually disempower indigenous peoples," she said in the interview.

Microsoft Makes First Challenge to Warrant Seeking Email Stored Abroad

Microsoft is making the first-ever challenge to a domestic search warrant seeking a customer's email stored in an Irish data center, the New York Times' Steve Lohr reports. Microsoft argues that having to turn over the email “would violate international law and treaties, and reduce the privacy protection of everyone on the planet.” But U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara argues that Internet firms can't avoid search warrants “simply by storing the data abroad.”

Pacific Island Nation Sues Over Nuclear Weapons

The Marshall Islands, a tiny nation in the Pacific, is suing the United States and eight other nuclear-armed countries in the International Court of Justice, the Associated Press reports: "The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade."

The lawsuit is "unprecedented," the AP reports. A federal lawsuit also was filed.

Onondaga Nation Takes Land Claim to International Venue

The Onondaga Nation, one of the Haudenosaunee tribes in New York state, is taking its land claim to the Organization of American States, alleging that the loss of 2.5 million acres of their land violated their human rights, the Syracuse Post-Standard reports. The Nation's land claim was dismissed in American courts and now will be filed in the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


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