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Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on September 15, 2014        Author: 

Last Friday I had the privilege of moderating the panel discussion on the right to privacy in the digital age at the 27th regular session of the Human Rights Council. The video of the panel discussion is available here, and a press release summarizing some of the statements here. OHCHR will be producing a more detailed report on the discussion in due course.

It was a very interesting event, which benefited from four great panelists – Catalina Botero, the special rapporteur on the freedom of expression in the Inter-American system; Sarah Cleveland, professor at Columbia Law School; Yves Nissim, deputy chief of corporate social responsibility at Orange Telecom; and Carly Nyst, legal director of Privacy International. The discussion was lively and interactive, and also benefited from many comments from the floor by states and various NGOs. (Incidentally Dapo will also be moderating a HRC panel discussion next week on drones and counter-terrorism, also with an excellent cast of participants).

There was broad endorsement, from states as well as from the panelists, of the High Commissioner’s important report on the right to privacy in the digital age, with some disagreement on specific issues. The comments from the floor were quite varied in terms of topic, but two big themes were the application of the ICCPR to extraterritorial surveillance (on which see more here), and the quantity and quality of oversight and accountability mechanisms. The panelists and NGOs also called for the establishment of a new special rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The right to privacy in the digital age and the High Commissioner’s report will next be considered by the UN General Assembly at its forthcoming session next month.

 
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EJIL: Live! – Episode 2

Published on September 11, 2014        Author: 

A new episode of EJIL: Live!, the Journal’s official podcast, is now available. Episode 2 of EJIL: Live! features an extended “Fireside Chat” between the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, Professor Joseph Weiler, and Oliver Diggelmann (University of Zurich) and Tilmann Altwicker (University of Basel), whose article “How is Progress Constructed in International Legal Scholarship?”, appears in Vol. 25, Issue 2 of EJIL. The interview was recorded at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Video and audio available here.

Filed under: EJIL: Live!
 

ESIL Prizes Announced

Published on September 5, 2014        Author: 

This evening the European Society of International Law, at its 10th Anniversary Conference in Vienna, announced the winners of the ESIL Prize: Sandesh Sivakumaran, for his book The Law of Non-International Armed Conflict (OUP, 2012) and Ingo Venzke, for How Interpretation Makes International Law: On Semantic Change and Normative Twists (OUP, 2012). Many congratulations to both!

Filed under: EJIL Analysis
 

Announcements: Fourth Annual Junior Faculty Forum

Published on August 17, 2014        Author: 

The Fourth Annual Junior Faculty Forum for International Law, launched by its founding co-convenors (Dino Kritsiotis – Nottingham; Anne Orford – Melbourne; J.H.H. Weiler – Florence), will take place in Florence, Italy, in June 2015. The call for applications is here: www.annualjuniorfacultyforumil.org. Please note: the closing deadline for applications is December 15.

Filed under: Announcements and Events
 

The Downing of MH17 and the Potential Involvement of International Courts

Published on July 22, 2014        Author: 

I do not at all want to trivialize the human tragedy that is the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last week, nor for that matter the parallel unfolding tragedies on the ground in Ukraine and in Israel and Gaza, by engaging in some premature lawyerly analysis. But, in reading on the unfolding story of the aircraft’s demise, I nonetheless couldn’t help but think how that story is very likely to find its epilogue in an international courtroom. The facts of MH17′s destruction are obviously far from clear, and are not going to become much clearer in the near future, but the number of possible scenarios is limited – the aircraft was (most likely) destroyed by Ukrainian rebels with Russian-supplied weapons, or (less likely) by either Ukranian or Russian state agents (who may have acted ultra vires). And not only did the downing of MH17 deepen a major existing international crisis, but it directly affected a number of states other than Ukraine and Russia, such as Malaysia and the Netherlands, not to mention the families of the victims themselves. This raises both the incentives and the opportunities for international litigation, in addition to whatever proceedings may ensue before domestic courts or international fact-finding missions.

Consider, first, the possibility that a case or cases regarding MH17 might end up before the European Court of Human Rights. Both Russia and Ukraine are of course parties to the ECHR, and readers will recall that one of the first acts of the new government in Kiev in response to the Crimea crisis was to lodge an inter-state application against Russia in Strasbourg, on which the Court ordered provisional measures. It is perfectly possible for the downing of MH17 to be an issue in the existing or a new inter-state case, or indeed one brought by a third state, such as the Netherlands, since the majority of the victims had Dutch nationality. And obviously the families of the victims may also bring individual applications against either Russia or Ukraine.

In addition to whatever direct involvement these states may have had in the destruction of the aircraft, they could also be held liable for other internationally wrongful acts. For example, Ukraine could be responsible for failing to secure the right to life of the victims and failing to comply with its substantive positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR by deciding not to close the relevant airspace for civilian traffic. Russia could be held responsible for providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weaponry without sufficient safeguards (e.g. appropriate training of the missile crews), thus creating the risk that this weaponry could be used against civilian targets. Both states could be held responsible for failing to secure an effective investigation into the incident. Obviously the facts could yet develop and some very complex preliminary issues could arise (e.g. the extent of Russia’s control over the Ukrainian rebels and the question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application), but all these points seem arguable.

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EJIL: Live! Special Episode on the Serdar Mohammed Judgment

Published on July 21, 2014        Author: 

In additional to the regular episodes of our EJIL: Live! podcast, which follow each issue of the Journal, we will also publish special episodes which deal with recent events or current issues. The first such episode is now live – a conversation between Guy Sinclair, Dapo Akande and me on the Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB) judgment, dealing with various issues regarding the lawfulness under the ECHR of the preventive detention of suspected terrorists in Afghanistan. For our previous coverage of that case, see here, here, here and here.

Filed under: EJIL: Live!
 
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OHCHR Publishes Report on Surveillance and Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on July 18, 2014        Author: 

Readers will recall that in its resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age the UN General Assembly had requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report for the next GA session on the various issues raised by mass electronic surveillance and the human right to privacy (see here for our previous coverage). An advance edited version of that report (A/HRC/27/37) is now available here. The report is rich, thoughtful and very much pro-privacy in the surveillance context, albeit not in a blind, fundamentalist way. It reaffirms that the right to privacy, as set out in Article 17 ICCPR or Article 8 ECHR, provides a framework within which the legality of surveillance measures needs to be assessed. While it acknowledges the legitimate governmental interests that surveillance may serve, it finds the existing institutional and legal arrangements in many states wanting and in need of further study and reform. Here are some of the highlights:

- It is important to consider linkages with other possible human rights violations, e.g. the collection of intelligence through surveillance that is later used for an unlawful targeted killing (para. 14).

- Interferences with the privacy of electronic communication cannot be justified by reference to some supposedly voluntary surrender of privacy on the Internet by individual users (para. 18).

- Collection of communications metadata can be just as bad in terms of privacy interference as the collection of the content of the communication (para. 19).

- Because of the chilling effect of surveillance: ‘The very existence of a mass surveillance programme thus creates an interference with privacy.’ (para. 20).

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Two Articles on the Relationship between IHL and IHRL

Published on July 14, 2014        Author: 

Readers interested in my four scenarios on the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law who want to know how I would decide them, as well as those who’ve read coverage of the Serdar Mohammed v. MoD judgment, might also be interested in two companion articles I recently posted on SSRN. The first is called Extraterritorial Derogations from Human Rights Treaties in Armed Conflict. In a nutshell it argues that states can and should resort to derogations from human rights treaties in extraterritorial situations, for example that the UK could have derogated (but chose not to) from the ECHR with respect to situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second piece is entitled The Lost Origins of Lex Specialis: Rethinking the Relationship between Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and it mainly deals with the genesis of the lex specialis principle and analyses the three different conceptions thereof. The abstracts are below the fold, and comments are as always welcome.

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Four Scenarios on the Relationship between IHL and IHRL

Published on July 9, 2014        Author: 

The issue of the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law is often mixed together with other difficult questions of international law. This is not very conducive to conceptual clarity. One way of advancing that clarity is to construct hypotheticals which isolate as many of the various issues as possible, so that we can through a thought experiment better appreciate both how they operate individually and how they interact with one another, and move through them carefully, step by step, while resisting the temptation of introducing further complicating considerations.

In this post I’ll present four such (not so) hypothetical scenarios. These are the quintessential hard cases: they all deal at least with an apparent conflict between IHRL and IHL with regard to the use of lethal force and preventive security detention without judicial review. This is not to dispute that in the vast majority of other situations IHRL and IHL would be complementary. My reason for focusing on the hard cases is that they allow us to address more clearly conceptual questions such as the nature and utility of the lex specialis principle.

Scenario 1: NIAC

State A is a party to both the ICCPR and the ECHR. A non-international armed conflict is taking place on its territory, between the state’s forces and those of a non-state actor, B, an organized armed group. The constituent elements of the NIAC threshold are met beyond any doubt. In an operation during the dead of night, A’s forces kill a dozen of B’s fighters sleeping in a barracks (e.g. by shelling it from a distance), presumably doing so in complete accordance with the applicable IHL rules on targeting. From the facts on the ground, however, it was clear that A’s forces were perfectly capable of capturing B’s fighters had they wanted to do so, with little or no risk to A’s own soldiers. Indeed, B’s fighters sleeping in an adjacent barracks were captured and detained by A as threats to state security for the duration of the NIAC, without criminal charge, and without any judicial review of the legality of the detention.

Questions:

1)     Do the ICCPR and the ECHR apply in principle to the killing and detention of B’s fighters, i.e. did these individuals have human rights vis-à-vis A? Assuming that the answer to this question is yes:

2)     Was the killing of B’s fighters lawful under Article 6 ICCPR? Why or why not?

3)     Was the killing of B’s fighters lawful under Article 2 ECHR? Why or why not?

4)     Was the detention of B’s fighters lawful under Article 9 ICCPR? Why or why not?

5)     Was the detention of B’s fighters lawful under Article 5 ECHR? Why or why not?

6)     Would a derogation under either treaty be permissible, and if so would the prior existence of a derogation have any impact on the analysis under questions 2-5?

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Technical Problems

Published on May 28, 2014        Author: 

Dear readers,

A quick note about the rather serious technical problems we’ve been experiencing for the past week. The blog is occasionally crashing or behaving very slowly. We are aware of the problems but it has proven difficult to establish their root cause. We’re on it and hopefully we’ll manage to resolve them soon. Obviously we apologize for any inconvenience.

The editors.

Filed under: EJIL
 
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