Tag Archive | "Germany"

Mass Incarceration at Home and Decarceration Abroad


Around the world, there are around ten million people in prison at any given time. While the world’s criminal justice systems struggle to ensure access to legal representation, a fair trial, and freedom from torture, some countries have been more successful than others. Other western countries are moving toward decarceration,[1] but politicians in the United States have been slow to recognize the devastating effects of the United States criminal justice system.

In the United States, over the last 40 years there has been incredible growth in the prison population. In 1972, United States prisons contained nearly 170,000 inmates; by 2012, prisons housed 1.5 million inmates. This 705 percent increase resulted from tough on crime laws and an increase in the number of criminalized activities. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, explains that not only have prison rates increased, they have disproportionately affected people of color, particularly black men. Not only is the United States quickly becoming famous for its “mass incarceration,” as Professor Alexander points out, it has stunted the social and economic wellbeing of low-income communities and communities of color. Ironically, studies have actually found that mass incarceration has not enhanced public safety.

Recently, there has been a shift in public opinion around incarceration. In 2012, a plurality of the United States public believed that too many people were in prison. In an effort to reduce the prison population, last October the Justice Department committed to releasing 6,000 inmates through reducing sentence lengths. President Obama has also commuted the sentences for the most individuals in recent history, a total of 348. Currently, mass incarceration is a leading issue in the presidential race as both republicans and democrats have criticized incarceration rates.

The rate of incarceration in the United States, compared to other nations, is more than five times higher. However, similarly industrialized nations have comparable crime rates.  A fundamental difference is that the United States interprets punishment to mean incapacitation and retribution, whereas other jurisdictions focus on resocialization and rehabilitation.

Germany and the Netherlands are examples of countries that focus on rehabilitating offenders. In the United States, the average rate of incarceration is 716 per 100,000 residents, whereas Germany’s rate is 79 per 100,000 residents, and Netherlands’ rate is 82 per 100,000 residents. Both countries primarily utilize non-custodial sanctions and diversion. Generally, other Western democracies use fines as the primary sanction. Compare this with the United States where 70 percent of convicted offenders are sentenced to a prison term for at least part of the sentence.

The German Prison Act states that the “sole aim of incarceration is to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.” While the Netherlands’ 1998 Penitentiary Principles Act focuses on re-socialization. Notably, “prisoners are encouraged to maintain and cultivate relationships with others both within and outside the prison walls.” While prison sentences are utilized in Germany and the Netherlands, the length of prison terms are also generally much shorter than those in the United States. There are also fewer mandatory prison sentences. The United States sentences offenders to lengthy prison terms and makes more use of the death penalty compared to other Western democracies.[2]

While incarcerated, prisoners in Germany and the Netherlands are treated differently than United States prisoners. Because rehabilitation is the primary goal, prisoners are allowed to wear their own cloths, prepare meals, learn job skills, and continue their education. The prisons themselves are designed with a lot of windows, lights, and wide hallways. Prison staff are trained similar to social workers and behavior specialists. Whereas the United States’ imprisonment method is principally punitive. To a degree, the United States’ method has become an American export. The supermax model originated within the United States and by 1999, there were 57 supermaxes in 34 states. This supermax model has now appeared in nine countries, including Brazil, which has one of the fasts growing prison populations. Supermax prisons utilize solitary confinement, largely eliminate common areas, and restrict prisoner interaction.

While Germany and the Netherlands provide a useful example of what the United States could aim for, Finland demonstrates a change theory for decarceration. In the 1950s, Finland had a rate of incarceration of 200 per 100,000. For the time, this was three to four times greater than other Nordic countries and nearly twice the United States’ incarceration rate.[3] Finland experienced a cultural shift toward penal severity, minimum sentencing, and severe sentences for common crimes.[4] By recognizing the limited capabilities of traditional imprisonment, Finland initiated several legislative and policy reforms. Finland’s movement toward decarceration critically relied on an ideological shift. The implemented reforms included reducing penalties, using noncustodial alternatives, and sentencing options designed to reduce the number of offenders sentenced to prison.[5] By introducing more gradient-based sentences and increasing the use of community service sentences, Finland was able to reduce its prison population.

Finally, an issue related to the criminal justice system in the United States, beyond incarceration itself is the collateral consequences of conviction. Professor Alexander reported that these collateral consequences include restrictions on access to social services, housing, employment, and the right to vote. Collateral consequences contribute to the recidivism cycle that also plagues the United States criminal justice system. In Germany and the Netherlands, however, ex-offenders retain their rights to vote and access to certain social services. This is not surprising though, as the United States does not prioritize social services in the same way as other Western countries and spends less on these programs.[6]

Change will not come quickly to the United States criminal justice system, but as Finland demonstrated, change is possible. Incarceration rates in the United States have begun to slow, albeit they are not yet declining.[7] Further, a recent bipartisan publication, with contributors including Vice President Joseph Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, proposes changes to address the problem of mass incarceration in the United States. In appeal to this attention, the United States should take the steps recommended by the Vera Institute of Justice. First, expand prosecutorial discretion to divert offenders. Second, reduce the reliance on incarceration as a first response and expand the use of community-based sanctions. Third, adapt the disciplinary structure and expand the menu of sanctions. Finally, normalize the conditions within prisons. These steps will require significant dedication to reform; however, it may yet be possible.


[1] Douglas B. Weiss & Doris MacKenzie, A Global Perspective on Incarceration: How an International Focus can Help the United States Reconsider Its Incarceration Rates, 5 Victims & Offenders 268, 270 (2010).

[2] Matthew B. Kugler, Friederike Funk, Judith Braun, Mario Gollwitzer, Aaron C. Kay, & John M. Darley, Differences in Punitiveness Across Three Cultures: A Test of American Exceptionalism in Justice Attitudes, 103 J. of Crim. L. & Criminology 1071, 1074 (2013).

[3] Weiss & MacKenzie, supra note 1, at 275.

[4] Id. at 276.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 273.

[7] Id. at 269.

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The State of European Burqa Bans


 "The many garments of Islam including hijabs, niqabs, burkas, and burkinis." - Photo Credit AFP

“The many garments of Islam including hijabs, niqabs, burkas, and burkinis.” – Photo Credit AFP

Recent attacks in France and Germany have put the international community on alert and caused governments in those countries to draft or enforce legislation aimed at preventing future attacks. While countries in France have drafted legislation directly targeting what is believed to be symbols pertaining to Islamic extremism, Germany has chosen a more neutral approach by targeting all items of clothing that obscure facial identity in public places. However, despite the approach taken, both countries have come under heavy criticism for enforcing such laws in the name of public safety.

Though France was the first country to ban both the burka (full-face Islamic veil) and the niqab (partial facial covering) in 2011, the mayor of Cannes in southern France, David Lisnard, has recently faced criticism for banning burkinis (full-body swimsuits) from beaches. Many critics have questioned the legality of the ban by pointing out that French law only bans facial coverings. However, David Lisnard has disregarded those questions and instead attempted to focus the conversation on the public policy reasons behind the law. One reason cited for the ban was to prevent incidents of public disorder. The idea behind that reasoning is that beachwear displaying a religious affiliation at a time when France and places of worship are targets of terrorist attacks is a portent for augmenting tensions and disrupting public order.

Similar to the French, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, has called for a partial ban on burkas in public places only days after saying a full ban on burkas would be unconstitutional. The law would prevent any facial veil in schools, universities, nurseries, public offices, or while driving. While the proposal still has to be approved before becoming law, many feel it is only a matter of time, given Germany’s victimization by Islamic State attacks and a record number of Muslim asylum seekers seeking entry into the country. Thomas de Maiziere has endorsed the partial ban as essential to the social cohesion of Germany’s citizens while in public and open society. Moreover, he has emphasized that the proposal is not a ban on the burka specifically, but rather a ban on any full veil where only the eyes are visible.

While government officials in France have faced criticism from citizens and political activist groups, Germany’s government officials’ political motives have been questioned. In response to the Cannes ban on burkinis, groups such as the League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) have announced their intent to challenge the law. In Germany, however, critics are questioning whether the proposal is purely political since recent statistics demonstrate it is uncommon to see a woman in Germany wearing a full-face veil or even a scarf. Moreover, two issues central to Germany’s general election next year will focus on asylum seekers and preventing future terrorist attacks.

Given the criticism and public outrage towards the Cannes’ ban on burkinis, future news may be expected regarding the status of the law. Also, Germany’s proposal may continue to make news up until the general election if the law is of importance to the main issues discussed in next year’s general election.

Nicole Chaney is a 2L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Online Managing Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy and Staff Editor on the Denver Law Review.

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Does Iran’s Ballistic Missile Test Detonate the Nuclear Deal?

On October 10 Iran successfully test launched a new precision-guided ballistic missile. On Wednesday, Britain, France, the United States, and Germany addressed a letter to the United Nations Security Council’s Iran Sanctions Committee claiming that the test violated a Security Council resolution prohibiting Iran from nuclear capable missile testing. In the wake of this allegation, and the recent adoption of the nuclear deal forged between Iran and world powers, there is confusion as to what impact an affirmation of the allegation may have on the deal, and why Iran may have chosen to test now, at such a sensitive time.

The Facts

October 10th launch of Iran’s Emad IRBM. Courtesy of IRINN news in Iran.

On July 14 Iran and world powers signed a ground-breaking deal to limit the ‘breakout time’ for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, in exchange for a reduction and eventual repeal of sanctions levied against the Islamic Republic. For decades, the UN Security Council has held strong to a policy of sanctioning Iran for actions it takes with respect to its nuclear program, a program which Iran has consistently claimed is intended only for peaceful purposes. This deal signals a strong shift by the UN, United States, and world powers in their approach to dealing with Iran, prioritizing direct negotiation and an incentives-based approach over sanctions. The world powers who signed the agreement with Iran include; The United States, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Specific details on the October launch are sparse, but we do know that the missile, named the Emad (Pillar), is a surface-to-surface intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The missile, precision-guided until it reaches the target, greatly enhances Iran’s medium-range precision strike capabilities because, as reported by Iran’s national news organization, the Emad is “capable of scrutinizing the targets and destroying them completely.” It has been reported that the missile is capable of complete accuracy within a 1,700km range, can carry a 750kg payload, and would be deployed in 2016. The State of Israel, which the leadership of Iran has vowed, but never attempted, to destroy, is within 1,700km range of Iranian territory. Israel and The United States are long-time allies. The tested missile was not loaded with a nuclear weapon, but a ballistic missile is the preferred delivery system for a nuclear warhead.

The letter addressed to the UN stated that the missile was “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon”, and that they hope the information will be used to “examine and take appropriate action in response to violations.”

The Laws

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 adopted in June 2010 prohibits Iran from “undertake[ing] any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons[,]” but the leadership in Iran has consistently, and successfully, rejected the enforceability of UN resolutions targeting its domestic activity.

UN Sec Council

Members of the Security Council vote at United Nations headquarters, Monday, July 20, 2015. The U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers and adopted a series of measures leading to the end of U.N. sanctions that have hurt the Iranian economy. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)



Under the new deal, titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), world powers have agreed to lift sanctions which were implemented under Resolution 1929, and other resolutions, in exchange for Iran stepping themselves back from developing warhead capability. As a part of the JCPOA a timeline of stages has been set, the first, which began this week, includes a reduction of some sanctions and the beginning of monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the implementing document for the JCPOA in the United Nations, mandates that the next stage will begin on the ‘Transition Day’, eight years from Sunday. Annex V, Schedule D para. 19 conditions repeal of sanctions relating to the the international transfer of ballistic weapons to Iran on the completion of IAEA testing and the first phase of the agreement, or on the Transition Day, whichever comes first.

Additionally, while obfuscated by confounding language, the document does lay out a requirement similar to the language in Resolution 1929 prohibiting the development of nuclear ballistic missiles. Paragraph 3 of Annex B states that until the Transition Day, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The scope of Annex B of Resolution 2231, titled “Statements”, is comprised of additional provisions set forth by each of the signatory world powers which must be met to in order to facilitate complete “implementation of the JCPOA.” Paragraph 3 does allow for an earlier reduction in ballistic weapon sanctions, contingent on an IAEA report that suggests Iran has fully complied with the nuclear capability reduction requirements of the JCPOA prior to the deadline, but the United States has a veto on any proposed early repeal. It should be noted that nothing in the JCPOA or Resolution 2231 explicitly dictates what actions taken by Iran prior to the date of Adoption would violate the agreement, or what force a new violation of Resolution 1929 would have on the implementation of the JCPOA during the 90 days between execution and Adoption.


First, referenced above, the launch occurred on October 10, after the execution of the JCPOA but prior to the Adoption Day of Resolution 2231 in the UN. Therefore, it may be argued that the JCPOA and 2231 do not apply. This leads to an interesting analysis, because the penalty for violation of a provision in Resolution 1929 would be economic sanctions, which Iran has consistently ignored and which 2231 is designed to reduce in exchange for cooperation from Iran regarding all facets of their nuclear agreement, which includes nuclear ballistic missile development. It seems, from this perspective, that Iran may have been attempting to get in “one last shot” before the JCPOA is implemented. It had no direct incentive not to do so and knew that the international community would have little recourse in the way of remedy or penalty.

On the other hand, when Iran launched they were fully aware of the imminence of the adoption of the agreement they had signed, and therefore their actions may also be judged by whether they comply with the JCPOA. The preamble to the JCPOA states that the parties to the agreement “commit to implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.” It does not seem that a test launch weeks before Adoption would be in the ‘letter, spirit and intent’ of the deal. The launch did, however, occur just days before Ayatolla Khomeini’s official acceptance on the part of the Islamic Republic, possibly timed as to preempt any consequence under the JCPOA.

Second, there is an important difference in the language of the two resolutions prohibiting Iran from developing nuclear capable ballistic missiles. Resolution 1929 requires that Iran refrain from any activity related to ballistic missiles “capable of delivering [nukes]”, while 2231 prohibits any activity related to ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering [nukes.]” Interestingly enough, when asked to comment, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “none of [Iran’s] missiles has been designed for a nuclear capability”, echoing the less restrictive language of 2231. The argument purported by the US and EU powers in the letter to the Iran Committee said that the missile was “inherently capable” of delivering nukes, focusing on the language of 1929.

Therefore, it seems that the United States claims that all ballistic missiles, whether ‘designed’ for nuclear capability or not, are “capable” of carrying a nuclear weapon, and therefore must fall under the provision as stated in 1929. Does this mean that the US claims that because the launch occurred prior to the Adoption Day of the JCPOA, Resolution 1929, which does not require ‘direction’ and therefore has a lower burden of proof, should be the controlling law? It is unclear whether the administration noticed the difference in the language when adopting their statement, or whether it thought the public would notice. Even if 1929 is the controlling law, the enforcement mechanisms in 1929 were not only ineffective when they were drafted, but are especially ineffective now, since they are in the process of being removed as a part of the JCPOA.

The Iranians, on the other hand, argue that they never conducted activity on missiles ‘designed’ to be nuclear capable, and therefore are not in violation of the provision, even though the test occurred prior to the Adoption Day. The official Iranian statement on the launch echoes the language in the JCPOA, and not that of 1929. The Iranian government has made no comment on whether, since they prefer to define the terms of their actions based on the JCPOA, they consider the launch to be within the ‘letter, spirit and intent’ of deal, as required by the preamble of the agreement. To sum it up, the US prefers the language of the old Security Council resolution, which is more inclusive but has no enforceability, whereas the Iranians defend their actions using the language of the JCPOA, which should be found not to include tests like the one on Oct 10, but if it was, would truly destroy the progress made to reach this deal.

Why Now?

Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 2015.

Based on the above analysis, it seems that neither the United States nor the Iranians want this launch, or any subsequent investigation, to detonate the landmark deal. Even so, neither is backing down. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest stated that while the administration was investigating the launch, that the test was “separate from the JCPOA” and did not violate the agreement. While no credible analysts believe that Iran’s ballistic missile program is for peaceful means, non-nuclear capable missile development is not prohibited by the JCPOA. So whether this missile is found to be nuclear capable or not, it has the potential to destabilize, but not detonate, the nascent trust between Iran and world powers. It is a wonder why, then, when the Ayatollah has come out in support of the deal, would he make such a bold, instigating, and seemingly benefit-less choice to launch?

In his effortless brilliance, Thomas Friedman, economist and columnist for the New York Times, may have inadvertently provided the answer almost a month before the launch. In his NY Times column dated September 16, ‘Iran Deal Players’ Report Cards’, Friedman grades all of the actors in the deal and gives the Ayatollah an “A”.  He explains that throughout the process, the Supreme Leader had been clever, acting to make himself domestically popular by “cheating” Iran’s way out of the “crippling sanctions, which his people want,” while all the while “giving his hard-line base the feeling that he’s still actually against this deal and his negotiators the feeling that he’s for it.”

While Friedman does end with a humorous reference to lessons the Ayatollah will learn in relation to the imminent domestic democratic transition in Iran, a-la Mikhail Gorbachev, he does also make a poignant parallel to the launch. He reminds us that just a week before the September 17 deadline for the US Senate to block American acceptance of the resolution, the Ayatollah made an ill-timed public statement predicting that Israel “won’t be around in 25 years[.]” This statement was clearly referencing a period of time within which Iran could successfully overcome the effects of the international sanctions and restrictions on its nuclear program by the JCPOA, and develop an actionable nuclear weapon. The statement eruditely left Iran’s direct participation in the destruction of the State of Israel to inference, but was timed specifically to instigate the right-wing in the US Senate and the Israeli government. A simple analogy is made from the statement to the launch of the missile, timed just a week before the Adoption of the JCPOA.

In the end, it is clear that none of the European powers, the US, UN, or Iran want to allow this launch, even if found to be of a missile ‘designed to be nuclear capable’, to destroy the hard-fought nuclear deal. Was the Ayatollah intentionally attempting to derail the agreement? Could he have just been catering to his conservative base by showing that any concessions he makes to support the deal will be in protest? Did he launch to send a little reminder to Israel before allowing his nuclear program to lay dormant?

Clearly, the future of peace and security in the region is too important to risk over a single missile launch. Only time will tell if any lasting effect will result from launch. It is unlikely that any action will be taken by the Security Council to reprimand Iran for launching, because this could cause a rift in the already tenuous partnership. As to the Ayatollah’s intentions? This author hopes that the launch was mere Putin-esq political puffery, destined to be relegated to the history books as the defining record of the most deadly weapon that Iran ever developed, never to be exceeded.

Jeremy S Goldstein is a 3L at the University of Denver – Sturm College of Law and the Online Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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VW Under Fire: Legal fallout of the emissions sensor deception

Volkswagen (VW) has faced hurdles in the company’s almost 78-year history. As a company formed under infamous Nazi leader Adolph Hitler’s vision and direction, reformation was in order for the car to ultimately live up to its name as the “people’s car.” However, after World War II ended, the company did succeed in creating well-built, affordable cars.

Now, VW is facing another hurdle that may be worse than previous ones. VW was recently exposed for using software to “rig” diesel emissions tests in the United States and across Europe. The software was used to cover-up emission outputs in order to meet the emission regulations of countries in which their cars and products were sold. Over 482,0000 vehicles in the U.S. are thought to be affected by this scandal and estimates of up to 11 million cars effected worldwide. In the U.S., alone, the carmaker could face penalties from the Environmental Protection Agency of up to $18 billion, and, again, that is only from the less than 500,000 cars affected within the U.S.

Potential Fall-Out

Germany is currently considered the most economically sound country within the European Union, has often been looked to for bailouts for other countries, i.e. Greece, and has been at the forefront of most recent EU stimulus and growth plans. The Country may now be in for a massive storm.

One in seven workers in Germany are dependent on the car industry, 274,000 of those workers are employed directly by VW, and 18% of Germany’s exports are VW cars and parts. VW has already admitted to “rigging” emissions tests on 2.8 million vehicles in Germany. Results from European Road Tests showed a 40% higher nitrogen oxides emission than standard allow and was advertised by the company. Due to these revelations, VW stock has dropped over 34% as of September 25th, 2015 and the threat of astronomical fines and consumer lawsuits that are very likely to arise or have already been filed, looms large over Germany and her citizens. If VW is not able to pull through this scandal or has to sell-off additional assets or subsidiaries, there is no telling what the damage might be to Germany’s economy, and, in turn, the EU as a whole. Additionally, in regards to the current migrant crisis and Germany at the helm of plans to relocate and assimilate such people, the depression of the German economy may thwart governmental plans and avenues for which support and jobs may have been provided.

The fall-out is likely to reach other countries as well, and, in fact, has already affected some industries in China and Japan. Some stocks in the Japanese markets fell as much as 16% and carmakers across the board saw dips in their shares. The most affected stocks were manufacturers of car parts and specifically parts used in diesel engines.

Another aspect of the fall-out of this massive scandal will be trust in corporate social responsibility programs. In Volkswagen’s 2014 Sustainability Report, environmental issues are named as a top priority. The quote leading the Environmental section of the report is as follows: “We have set ourselves ambitious targets with regard to environmental protection, because we’re aiming to be the leading player in ecological terms.”

The company touts its accomplishments of being the first automobile manufacturer to commit to the EU’s emission standards, with an achievement of this goal by the year 2020. While the company still has time to reach such a goal, however unlikely, one has to wonder if they committed to such high expectations with the thought of mind to cheat the system and will likely be skeptical of all future goals and sustainability reports.

Not only did Volkswagen damage the image of their own Corporate Social Responsibility programs, but investors and consumers across the globe may now question the motives, intentions, and sincerity of good deeds committed by all corporations and wonder whether the company is contributing as they say. With a growing distrust of corporations due to greed and massively disproportionate wealth and power, many consumers now a day are researching what they buy, from whom they buy, and many are deciding to “buy local” so as to avoid just this type of deception. This type of scandal reinforces the need for consumers to spot check corporations and holds them to higher standards. Volkswagen has severely damaged their image as the “people’s car” and has likely destroyed their ability to meet any of their goals, including becoming the most “successful, fascinating, and sustainable automobile manufacturer in the world.”

Current Investigations and Potential Liability

At this point in time, it is unclear how far up the ladder the deception at VW went. It is not known whether the CEO, Winterkorn, who has since resigned, directed the use of the rigging devices or if he knew the devices were in use. There are clues that he was or should have been aware, as evidence has surfaced that the company was previously warned against their usage. If there was deliberate fraud or malfeasance, Winterkorn and other directors and officers of the company may become personally liable for damages.

An investigation regarding the company’s liability for Securities fraud is also underway. Investigators are attempting to determine whether VW provided intentionally false information to investors and the public as a whole. A lawsuit has already been commenced claiming such fraud; however, there does not seem to be enough information, as mentioned before, to determine the intentionality of the misleading and deceptive information or who within the company was aware of the use of the “rigging” devices.

Additionally, any product liability or product recall insurance VW may have held will likely not pay out on any or most of the claims against the company. Because of the deliberate nature of the act, the company will most definitely pay fines and legal fees out of their own reserves and future profits.

Criminal charges are likely also pending against all involved in the scandal, both officer and director level and engineers or other workers involved in implementing the illegal devices. The U.S. may have trouble prosecuting those involved, however, because most of the activity involved, occurred overseas and European countries will likely have first “dibs” on prosecutions.

VW has hired Kirkland & Ellis LLP to defend against all charges. The firm defended BP after the oil spill disaster in the Gulf Coast in 2010. It is yet to be determined if any defenses will be put forth or if a settlement will be forthcoming. One quote from Volkswagen’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report sticks out as a great way to end this blog: “One-time certainties are being consigned to the past; uncertainty is becoming our constant companion.” Hans Dieter Potsch, Member of the Group Board of Management responsible for Finance and Controlling.

It will be interesting to see how or if Volkswagen may recover from the greedy and deceitful actions of the company’s leadership and how Europe will react to the scandal over the long term. Uncertainty will definitely remain a  “constant companion” to VW, Europe (specifically Germany), VW consumers, environmentalists and corporate- watchdogs, alike, well into the future.

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Migrants seen as Economic Detriment to Greece and Benefit to Germany

By the end of July 2015, more than 124,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Greece; an astonishing 750% increase in the amount of refugees and migrants from the same time the previous year. The vast majority of these refugees are those feeing conflict and human rights violations in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq in wake of the humanitarian crisis.

Refugees arriving in Lesbos, Greece. Photo credit: Laxar Simeonov (click for source)

For these refugees, the Greek financial crisis has been both a blessing and a curse. For many, travel into the Greek islands is attractive because of the country’s reputation for leniency in immigration laws and lack of resources to adequately control its borders and the flow of immigrants. However, once they’re in, many face the bleak reality of the struggling Greek economy. Though some view Greece as simply the entry point into Western Europe with plans to move north to more prosperous countries such as Germany, many flee to Greece with very little possessions and money and can’t afford to travel any further. It’s at this point that the realities of the Greek economy and the scope of the refugee crisis come into view: Greece simply cannot support and process the major influx of refugees while at the same time trying to recover its dismal economic state. Frustrations in the wake of such considerations have reached a tipping point recently culminating in riots on the island of Lesbos over seemingly inefficient process for intake of refugees and inability of the government to provide basic necessities to those arriving on the islands.

Although Greece is struggling to assist refugees, the generous response from the Greek society, in a very difficult time, should be and appears to be acknowledged with action and support from the European Union. On September 22, the EU Interior Ministers voted in favor of a quota system to address the crisis and help to relocate asylum-seeks throughout Europe. Though the plan has been approved by the EU Interior Ministers, it still must be considered by the EU Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the EU remains divided on how best to address the refugee crisis, with some member states calling the quota system “unreasonable” and a “waste of time.” However, scholars on the other side have taken the position that the massive influx of refugees seeking employment and ready to build a new life presents a valuable opportunity for countries like Germany, with an aging workforce and declining population, and have gone as far as to forecast that a sharp increase in growth will result for those willing to accept new migrants and asylum-seekers stating, “an influx of 1 million people over the next three years would raise the country’s GDP by 0.6% by 2020.” Germany’s ability to integrate a substantial number of asylum-seeks seems to have been taken into consideration, with Germany being asked to take by far the highest number of immigrants under the proposed plan.

Demi Arenas is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal or International Law and Policy.

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Schengen Fails Under Weight of Migrant Influx as Sovereignty Trumps


The migrant crisis is forcing tensions between the free-movement created by the Schengen Agreement and notions of state sovereignty.  The crisis has brought into questions of European solidarity as countries force migrants from one country to the next.  In practice the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which requires that a migrant’s asylum claim be processed in the European country where he/she first arrives, has been de facto suspended.  Some have suggested, which this author agrees with, that the Dublin Regulation needs to be completely revamped to respond to the current crisis.

Just this weekend, the Hungarian government has accused Croatia of breaching international law by failing to register migrants.  At the same time, Hungary is currently building a razor wire fence in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants into the country.  Additionally, a number of migrants who reached Austria via Hungary have told the BBC they had not been registered in Hungary either, simply driven in buses across the country and told to walk over a railway line into Austria.

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours, Austria has seen the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants.  Migrants were sent first to Hungary by Croatia, who stated it was unable to accommodate the 20,000 plus migrants who had arrived since Wednesday. While initially welcoming them, Croatia later state said it was unable to cope, sending them to Hungary.  Hungary then turned to Austria, while accusing Croatia of breaking rules by failing to register migrants.

EU Crisis - Boheme
Migrants queue as they wait to board a regional train at the main railway station in Munich, Germany. (Reuters)

Countries like Germany, which have welcomed refugees and have offered to take in records numbers of migrants are now finding that such offerings are untenable.  In his State of the Union speech on 9 September the EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, called free movement under Schengen “a unique symbol of European integration”.  However, such integration is now being tested.  While Mr. Juncker called for “better joint management of our external borders and more solidarity in coping” with the influx, the reality is that few countries have demonstrated solidarity in order to find a durable solution to the crisis.

While EU nations desperately guard their sovereignty and shift the burden from one country to the next, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Eritrea continue raging, forcing migrants to choose between enduring extremely dangerous and dire situations at home, or leaving their homes and embarking on perilous journeys towards what they hope will be safety. Illustrating the dangers many migrants face in their flee towards safety is a recent warning from Croatia of the risk of landmines if migrants venture off the main roads in border areas, where Croat and Serb forces clashed in the early 1990s. Yet many migrants are still reported to be entering Croatia across those dangerous fields in an attempt to bypass border controls.

One migrant who made it safely to Austria told the Associated Press, “I feel like I’ve been born anew. It makes no difference whether I am delayed, whether I stay here two days. The important thing is that I’ve finally arrived and that I am now finally safe.”  However, the travel options for migrants remain dangerous, with the Greek coastguard reported that a five-year-old girl died when the boat taking her from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos sank, and at least 13 other migrants on board are missing.

What is clear is that the conflicts in countries such Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan shows no signs of stopping, and as a result, migrants will continue to seek safe haven in Europe.  With attempts such as the EC’s recent proposal for mandatory quotas to distribute 160,000 migrants EU-wide being rejected, countries need to do much more to address this issue which will not disappear any time soon.  However, the problem is incredibly complex, as migration expert Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute Europe has suggested.

Papdemtriou stated recently that to address the migrant crisis, Europe will have to invest in creating real opportunities for refugees so that they can stay in neighboring countries, make a livelihood, get an education, and access health services. He suggests further that Europe should work with countries that are a launching pad, by targeting three or four key countries on the pathway from countries experiencing large patterns of migrations, and do as much as it takes to get their cooperation — to stop traffickers, to create opportunities for people to stay, and create a safe pathway.  This of course requires the cooperation of European countries and governments, something that has been in short supply during the crisis.  This is not to oversimplify the fact that governments have genuine security concerns, and real concerns regarding resources both economic and otherwise, and this crisis is incredibly complicated.  There is no “easy” solution.  However, what this situation requires is a strategic response, which cannot be achieved without the cooperation of affected countries, including a possible revamp of the Dublin Regulation and an open dialogue on the functioning of the Schengen Agreement within the framework of the current crisis.

Emily Boehme is a 3L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Senior Managing Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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The College Conundrum: How US student loan repayment policy created $1 trillion in outstanding debt


Credit to: https://farm1.staticflickr.com/44/148486190_9e1daed403_o.jpg

On average, a US student will spend approximately $21,000 per year pursuing a college degree, approximately 22% of which will be paid through borrowed funds. Considering the increasing costs of college tuition coupled with the need for students to borrow almost ¼ of their tuition, it no surprise that the outstanding federal student loan debt has crossed the $1 trillion mark. With continuously increasing tuition threatening to put higher education just out of reach for many Americans, it’s intriguing to consider that many countries around the world take a surprisingly different approach to higher education tuition and funding.

Recently, Germany reverted back to a free tuition model for public universities, after an eight year period in which the universities were allowed to charge up to €1,000 per year (approx. equivalent to $1,300). Denmark takes a similar approach but goes a step further by providing higher education completely free, not only to its own citizens but also to those of any country in the European Union, while also providing monthly stipends for cost-of-living expenses. While not tuition free, Australia nonetheless has a similar student-centric policy that bases tuition on major, with higher rates for those areas in which the student can expect a higher future income. As an incentive to lessen the amount of debt taken on by students in financing their education, students who pay as much of their tuition upfront as possible receive a 10% discount on their tuition rate.

When compared with countries like Australia and New Zealand, the United States’ debt forgiveness and repayment policy seems rather harsh. As previously mentioned, Australian students who are able to pay some of their tuition upfront receive a discounted rate. Anything that is not paid up front is paid back based on income but only once the student has graduated, become employed, and their income has reached a certain minimum level. In the event that their income drops below the minimum level, they are not required to make further payments until their income again meets the minimum standard.

While the US does offer a somewhat comparable systems in theory, in practice the differences are significant. For example, American students do have the option of applying for an income-based repayment plan, but rather than automatically being enrolled in the plan or allowing anyone to opt-in, only students demonstrating partial financial hardship can take advantage of this option. Similarly, American students have the option to apply for deferment or forbearance if they are unable to continue making payments on their loans, however, these options are limited in time, up to three years for deferment and twelve months for forbearance. Most significantly, interest continues to accumulate during the deferment/forbearance period whereas no interest accumulates during the Australian no-payment period.

So is a US college degree worth the increasing price tag? The answer depends on your perspective.

In the US, college graduates in general have a much lower unemployment rate than those without a college degree. As you might expect, when comparing unemployment rates of all college graduates with recent college graduates, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is higher but maintains fairly steady (peaking at 5% for all graduates in 2010 compared with 7% for recent college graduates in the same year). Somewhat troubling however, is the fact approximately 44% of graduates are underemployed, meaning those graduates who report having a job are employed in a job that does not require their degree. Thus the question of whether or not to pursue a college education depends on balancing the likelihood of landing a “dream job” (or even finding a job after graduation), with the encumbrance of a large amount of unforgivable debt. Given the staggering and still increasing amount of federal student loan debt, this, apparently, is a gamble that many hopeful young Americans, myself included, are willing to take.


Demi Arenas is a 2L and Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Germany takes center stage in diplomacy


Credit: http://www.zif-berlin.org/fileadmin/uploads/ueber_zif/bilder/News-Bilder/Logo_Review2014.png

In order to reevaluate its foreign policy approach, Germany conducted a review (“Review 2014”) last year.  Review 2014 included multiple town hall meetings with German voters and debates among foreign policy experts around the world.  Even during Review 2014, voters’ and experts’ opinions and approaches changed.  Initially, the majority of German voters disagreed with the statement “Germany should be more engaged internationally.”  This position changed, however, as 2014 progressed.

When looking back at 2014, and the world events contained therein, it is no wonder Review 2014 transformed.  The Ebola crisis in Africa; Ukraine, Russia, and Crimea dispute; continued fighting between Israel and Hamas; the rise of ISIS; and the revival of the Euro crisis when Greece rebelled against austerity just to name of few, the Western powers were spread thin.  Germany, as France was preoccupied in Africa, the United States involved in the Middle East, and the United Kingdom taking, what some would say, a negligible stance on foreign policy, left Germany to attend to the crises occurring in Europe: Ukraine, Russia, and Crimea and the Euro and Greece.

Chancellor Angela Merkel showed her stamina in diplomacy when working to resolve these disputes.  Chancellor Merkel takes the approach that it is always better to keep talking than to fuel conflict.  Germany’s history essentially forces Germany to take this approach, however.  World War II and the politics surround the Berlin Wall are still too fresh to ignore.  Any fueling of the fire or unilateral action by Germany, automatically brings back feelings of a not so distant past.  Regardless of why Germany and Chancellor Merkel takes this approach, their persistent diplomacy and “ethical” methodology sits well with German citizens.

As a result of these events and Germany’s responses, Review 2014 led to the following goals:

These goals were posted online where Review 2014 encourages visitors to continue the conversation as Germany’s foreign policy evolves.

Review 2014 has evolved into a social platform to discuss and change Germany’s foreign policy approach.  Should other countries use a similar review process to address foreign policy or is this process unique to Germany?  Engaging citizens is never a bad idea and it would not be surprising to learn that the majority of Western citizens likely agree with the statement “speak softly and carry a big stick,” putting diplomacy before fueling a conflict.  However, other Western countries do not need to tread as lightly when making changes to foreign policy because they do not have the same recent tainted past.  Opening up discussions regarding politics to citizens using a social platform appears to be a unique way to communicate with voters, but let’s withhold any firm judgment for 18 months to see what Germany does with the goals from Review 2014.

Alicia Guber is a 3L and the Editor in Chief on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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Critical Analysis: The Resurgence of the Modern Baby Box

Baby hatches (also called baby boxes) are not an entirely modern concept, as their use can be traced back to medieval times.  Their purpose has also largely remained the same: to allow a mother to anonymously leave the child in a safe and protected place, the baby box, when she feels she is not capable of providing for the child.  The child’s father or other family members can utilize the baby box as well.  Whether the mother is leaving the baby at a local hospital, church, or charity, mothers do so for different reasons, be it to avoid having an abortion or female infanticide (in some countries), or to leave an illegitimate or disfigured child in the care of others.  However, the resurgence of the baby box in numerous countries throughout Europe and Asia has spurred a hotly contested debate between the desire of the mother to leave the baby anonymously and the right of the child to discover the identity of his or her parents, a conflict that may never be resolved.

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

In Germany, there are nearly 100 baby boxes in existence.  Generally, the baby is cared for by the providers of the baby box before going through Germany’s legal system for adoption.  In some instances, a mother has the opportunity to return to the site where she left her baby and reclaim him or her within a certain time period.  After a set time, however, the mother cannot return to reclaim the baby and the adoption will be final.  However, the entire operation of baby boxes in Germany is at odds with the country’s laws.

Abandoning a baby is illegal in Germany, and the country’s Constitution provides its citizens with the right to know who their parents are and gives fathers a right to help raise their children.  So allowing the continued operation of the baby boxes falls within a legally gray zone, one that strongly nods towards the social policy that is the foundation of its existence.  Supporters of the baby boxes view them as a last hope for women who are unable to shoulder the burden of taking care of their baby.  Those in opposition believe that baby boxes send the wrong message to society that women can hide their pregnancies and then abandon their babies.  For now, Germany appears to be allowing the operation of the baby boxes despite strong criticism against their existence.

In France, the law gives women the right to have an anonymous birth and a right for their identity be kept secret from their child if they so desire.  The European Court of Human Rights upheld the law in 2003, stating it does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.  However, the operation of baby boxes in France, Germany, and other countries clashes with the right of a child to know or preserve his or her identity, which is guaranteed in Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 7 also gives a child the right, as far as possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents.  If a country allows a mother to legally leave her child in a baby box, the child will never know the identity of his or her parents let alone be given the opportunity to be cared for by them.

The continuing conflict between the mother’s desire and (in some countries) right to give birth anonymously and the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents is prevalent in not only Europe but other corners of the world as well.  Whether or not governments will continue to allow the operation of baby boxes in the midst of a debate with no clear right or wrong answer is yet to be determined.

Laura Brodie is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: Mother Merkel’s Victory in Germany

Angela Merkel won a large margin victory September 22, 2013, to retain her position as Germany’s Chancellor. Merkel’s political party, the Christian Democrats, received 41.5% of the votes. The opposition, the Social Democrats, garnered 25.7% of the votes, creating the largest voter margin since Germany’s reunification in 1990. Although winning by an unusually high margin, Merkel’s party fell short of securing an absolute majority meaning Merkel and the Christian Democrats must turn toward the formation of a new political coalition.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats, with 41.5% of the votes, have few options to secure a majority in Germany. The Christian Democrats were last aligned with the Free Democrats, but could not push for a coalition with the group in the upcoming term because the Free Democrats failed to secure any seats in parliament.  However, with the failure of the Free Democrats to secure seats in parliament, it would seem a new “grand coalition” is likely. Therefore, the Christian Democrats will likely engage in negotiations with the Social Democrat Party to form a “grand coalition” in the coming weeks. A similar coalition was formed between the Social Democrat Party and Merkel’s Christian Democrats during her first term from 2005-2009. Although the Christian Democrats are expected to reach agreement with the Social Democrat Party, Merkel’s group will also engage in discussions with the Greens Party.  A coalition between the conservative Christian Democrats and the Green Party is unlikely because the Green Party has slowly developed more liberal policies than both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.

Angela Merkel making the “Merkel Rhombus,” a symbol of the German Chancellor’s calm and powerful leadership.  Source: Reuters

Angela Merkel making the “Merkel Rhombus,” a symbol of the German Chancellor’s calm and powerful leadership.
Source: Reuters

Chancellor Merkel’s large margin re-election victory in Germany was a rarity in the Eurozone. Merkel remains one of the last leaders in office following the European financial crisis that began five years ago; the leaders of Britain, Italy, Spain, and France have all been subsequently ousted from office.  German media portrays Merkel as a motherly figure for the country, and Merkel’s latest victory in Germany is indicative of the trust placed in her by the German people. The victory further reaffirms her important role in structuring the recovery process for the Eurozone as a whole.

Merkel opposes the issuing of European joint-bonds, and she has been applauded by some for such opposition because Germany has come out of the euro crisis in a much better position than most of its counterparts.  However, as one commentator argues, the success of the Eurozone is dependent on Germany’s actions surrounding economics, including issues such as bailouts and the European banking union.

It is likely that Merkel and the Christian Democrats party will continue to practice policies of austerity, at least in part, and continue to oppose efforts to strengthen the European Central Bank through debt financing. These policies put the Christian Democrats at odds with the Social Democrats; therefore, in order to form a successful coalition, the Social Democrats will need to cooperate with the Christian Democrats in forming a policy of compromise.  Both the Social Democrats and the Green Party support debt mutualisation for the European Union, but Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party is unlikely to change its opposition for such a policy. Therefore, the Eurozone crisis will certainly play a large role in the formation of Germany’s new coalition.

The European Union Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, optimistically stated after Merkel’s victory, “We have now the first signs of recovery in Europe, but it’s still a fragile recovery.”  The German population has already shown that they trust Merkel to improve the European economy and now the European Union is also relying on her to help improve the economic conditions within the Eurozone.  As Merkel becomes more involved in the crisis, her motherly depiction from the German media is slowing spreading.  For now, the struggling European countries, namely, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Cyprus, will have to wait to learn their fate in the coming months as such fate is intimately linked to the direction mother Merkel takes next as Chancellor. But with unemployment reaching over 25% in both Greece and Spain, the countries are hoping for quick resolution.

Stacy Harper is a 3L at Denver Law and Marketing Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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