NOTE: This blog post was written by Heather Kwityn. Heather is a sophomore in the School of Diplomacy and is majoring in International Relations and Economics, with a minor in Arabic. She has previously studied abroad in Krakow, Poland on a full scholarship at Jagiellonian University. She is the Vice President of the competing Model United Nations team on campus, as well as the President of the Undergraduate Diplomacy Student Association. Heather is also a member of UNA-SHU and a violinist in the University orchestra.
On Thursday March 10, the UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee held an open briefing, Upholding Justice: Terrorism, Ryle of Law, and the Role of Judges. This panel featured Supreme Court Justices from the Middle East and South Asia, and other legal advocates, as well as the United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. These judges discussed the challenges of trying terrorists by balancing the obvious threats that are present with the persistent need to practice fair trials. The need for a system that is sound and without loopholes is imperative to the ever-changing global climate. As expressed by Justice Breyer, the courts need to establish a process that has legitimate power that people will adhere to.
Need for a Fair Trial: While many of the justices seemed to make note of this need, SCOTUS Justice Breyer discussed the history of why judges need to ensure that terrorists receive a fair trial. A time of fear or unrest does not simply grant courts a “blank check” when deciding cases. Since courts are not granted these blank checks, he questioned what type of check the courts should be given and how much power courts should receive during these circumstances. When addressing this, Justice Breyer pointed to some of the rather unfortunate times the United States faced when laws were ignored in cases such as Japanese Internment Camps, as well as those unjustly imprisoned due to fear during the Civil War. We must not make rulings based on fear, and we must work towards a balanced system based on the same rights that the accused are subject to in traditional proceedings. Chief Justice Khaled Ayari of Tunisia brought up the importance of the simple but essential legal proceedings, such as the accused being innocent until proven guilty, a fair and unbiased judge, and the right to a lawyer. According to Justice Asif Kosha of Pakistan, if we change the way we try an alleged terrorist, the terrorists have won. This means they have impacted the core values present in a fair legal system. Without these values, the legitimacy of the courts comes into question, and the public would view the courts as tyrannical.
Regional Cooperation: Many members present at the briefing were members of SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation), a regional group of judges designed to promote judicial cooperation between the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Other judicial groups represented included the Association of High Courts of Cassation of Francophone Countries (AHJUCAF), and the Euro Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED). The goal of these partnerships are to promote cooperation in regions that are facing similar problems, and to build ‘toolkits’ to aid in efficient judiciary processes. These organizations have proven to be crucial and beneficial to link culturally and geographically similar countries to understand and combat terrorism through the court system. Already, they are working to be key communication forums to strengthen these regions and will continue to play a vital role in the future of justice for terrorists.
Sharing information: In addition to regional cooperation, a common theme justices brought up was the need to share information on the legal proceedings of terrorism, as well as information regarding trans-national terrorist groups. The Secretary General of AHJUCAF reported that his organization is already establishing an online database that includes 905,000 decisions from 45 Supreme Courts around the world. It was a general consensus that global information cooperation is needed because these are crimes that are not unique to any particular country. This is an emerging problem, so international norms are not yet set, presenting the need to share court decisions and their reasoning so judges have ideas to build on. As Justice Breyer mentioned, the work of a judge can be very isolating and it’s hard to connect with other judges. This is why keeping a network of information open for judges to look at similar cases on developing topics is imperative. In addition, the president of the International Organization for Judicial Training stressed the need to train Supreme Court justices in making decisions regarding terrorism. Because these decisions are partially based on international law, there must be a space where judges can learn about this emerging issue. With this international communication and training, there is much hope in establishing norms and developing a process that is not tyrannical but still achieves justice.