Friday, January 8, 2016

The UN library announced its most-checked-out book of 2015. It's kind of disturbing.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library at the United Nations — named after the secretary general who died in 1961 — doesn't make the news very often. Meant to be used by the professional Secretariat staff of the UN and by national delegations, it stores documents and publications from the UN and related organizations, as well as a raft of other books and materials on international relations, law, economics, and other UN-relevant topics. So, you know, a library.

But even the UN's library has a social media presence now, and recently it tweeted the 2015 publication that got checked out the most frequently: 


To be clear: The UN is full of delegates representing awful dictatorships, and the 2015 book that it says got checked out the most from the UN library was about … how to be immune from war crimes prosecution. That does not seem like a good thing! 

The book in question isn't a UN document — it's a doctoral thesis from the University of Lucerne by Ramona Pedretti, pursuing the question of when heads of state and other government officials can be charged in foreign courts. Generally, she explains, there are two forms of immunity in international law from which heads of state can benefit.

"Immunity ratione personae prevents incumbent Heads of State from being subjected to foreign criminal jurisdiction," Pedretti writes. "In contrast, immunity ratione materiae protects official acts, i.e. acts performed in an official capacity on behalf of the State, from scrutiny by foreign courts."

She concludes that immunity ratione personae is absolute, and thus that domestic courts in one country can't indict the sitting leader of another nation, whereas ratione materiae can be invalidated for defendants who've left office — as happened with the arrests of the Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann by Israel and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by Spain. Basically, Pedretti is arguing that incumbent heads of state can't be charged and prosecuted by a foreign court, whereas past heads of state can.

For the rest of the story: http://www.vox.com/2016/1/6/10724560/un-library-war-crimes

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