Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

Ukraine Derogates from the ICCPR and the ECHR, Files Fourth Interstate Application against Russia

Published on October 5, 2015        Author: 

I’ve somehow managed to miss this – and I don’t think it has been widely reported – but in June this year Ukraine formally derogated from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. In late August it also filed a new interstate application before the European Court of Human Rights against Russia, and this is the really big one, dealing with events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine after September 2014. A couple of days ago it was communicated by the Court to Russia for a response, as detailed in the Court’s press release. The press release also explains the current state of Ukraine/Russia related litigation; while one of the four interstate cases was discontinued, the three remaining cases come coupled with some 1,400 individual cases on various issues, against Russia, Ukraine, or both. Obviously this whole set of cases – together with those dealing with the downing of MH17, and future Ukraine/Russia cases to come – presents one of the most significant challenges that the Court has ever had to face on how the Convention should apply in armed conflict.

The press release also refers to Ukraine’s derogation from the ICCPR and the ECHR. The text of the detailed notice of derogation can be found here and here. In particular, Ukraine derogated (or at least attempted to derogate) from Articles 5, 6, 8 and 13 of the Convention, and the corresponding articles in the ICCPR. Much of the derogation notice, and the relevant Ukrainian legislation it refers to, deals with detention issues and other restrictions on personal liberty, such as the institution of curfews, as well as changes to judicial and prosecutorial procedures. The most important derogation seems to be the extension of detention without judicial authorization from 72 hours to 30 days, subject to decision of a prosecutor.

Two things struck me as particularly interesting – and particularly unhelpful – after reading the derogation notice.

Read the rest of this entry…

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An Assessment of the Colombian-FARC ‘Peace Jurisdiction’ Agreement

Published on September 29, 2015        Author: 

Last week Wednesday (23 September 2015), Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met in Cuba with the leader of the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC (alias Timochenko”), to publicly announce the agreement to establish a ‘Special Peace Jurisdiction’ reached between the Government and FARC. This is certainly a milestone in the Colombian peace process. While many local and international voices (including heads of government and State of other countries) have been supportive of the agreement (see here and here), a few have rejected its content considering that it fosters impunity. Among those who have objected to the agreement is Alvaro Uribe, the former Colombian president who has been very vocal in his opposition to the conditions of the current peace process and has favored either a militaristic strategy or one in which the guerrilla members subject themselves to ordinary criminal sanctions.

Given the controversy, it is worth briefly considering whether, as critics pose, the agreement would be contrary to international law standards or whether, according to its supporters, it is not only consistent with them but proves to be a unique opportunity to end the conflict with the FARC, which is the oldest operating guerrilla movement in the world.

To do this, it is necessary to briefly look at the content of the agreement. In assessing the agreement, it is important to bear in mind that its full contents are yet to be revealed, and indeed some aspects have not been fleshed out fully. However, the main points of the agreement are set out in the oral statements of the Colombian President and, in greater detail, in written form in a joint communiqué, which can be found (in Spanish) in the official webpage of the Colombian presidency.

The “Special Peace Jurisdiction” – A new Mixed Tribunal?

The key aspect of the agreement is the creation of a judicial body –  ‘Special Peace Jurisdiction’ – which will make decisions on cases related to the Colombian armed conflict and has the capacity to issue extraordinary decisions that differ from those of ordinary criminal trials. The members of the body will mostly be Colombians but it will also include a few foreigners (point 3 of the joint communiqué). Read the rest of this entry…

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Human Rights Treaties and Foreign Surveillance

Published on September 28, 2015        Author: 

A quick heads-up that the final version of my article on Human Rights Treaties and Foreign Surveillance: Privacy in the Digital Age, is now available on the website of the Harvard International Law Journal. The article grew from a series of posts I did here on this topic. The published version also contains a postscript addressing some of the recent developments after the piece was accepted for publication; see here generally for the blog’s coverage of surveillance issues.

In the meantime the UN Human Rights Council has appointed Prof. Joseph Cannataci of the University of Malta as the first special rapporteur on privacy. His candidacy enjoyed significant support from privacy organizations, while his election took no small amount of politicking, with the German president of the Council overruling a proposal made by a five-state consultative group, which favoured Estonian Prof. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, who was perceived as not being sufficiently critical of mass surveillance practices. Prof. Cannataci, on the other hand, has already come out with harsh criticisms of digital surveillance programmes; he inter alia “described British surveillance oversight as being “a joke”, and said the situation is worse than anything George Orwell could have foreseen.”

Hyperbole aside, Prof. Cannataci has also called for the adoption of a “Geneva Convention” for the Internet “to safeguard data and combat the threat of massive clandestine digital surveillance.” And a couple of days ago Edward Snowden and a group of activists came out with one such proposal, labelled the “International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers,” or the “Snowden Treaty” for short. Only a short and uninformative summary seems to be publicly available at this time.

I must say that I have grave misgivings about such proposals (with the caveat that the proposed draft has not yet been published). First of all, proposing such a new treaty implies that the existing legal framework is incapable of meaningfully regulating surveillance practices, despite the relevant privacy provisions in the ICCPR, the ECHR and the ACHR, and despite existing case law and materials (especially from the Strasbourg Court). In other words, proposing a binding gap-filling instrument assumes that a regulatory gap exists. Secondly, politically it seems exceptionally unlikely that any of the major players in the surveillance sphere (e.g. the US, UK, Russia, China), not to mention authoritarian regimes in many smaller states, would agree to any binding multilateral treaty in the foreseeable future, let alone to a comprehensive “Geneva Convention for the Internet.” Nor will the “Snowden Treaty” label make this proposed agreement any more politically palatable. So it’s just completely unclear to me what a feel-good, pie in the sky proposal such as this one is actually going to achieve, except needlessly waste precious political energy and undermine efforts to regulate surveillance and other intrusive cyber practices under the existing legal framework.

But let’s wait and see. In the meantime, Jessup competitors this year will have a nice, fat surveillance case to litigate before a fictional ICJ, and best of luck to them.

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Human Rights and the Targeting by Drone

Published on September 18, 2015        Author: 

The UK government has justified its targeting and killing of three people who were engaged in hostilities as part of the ‘Islamic State’ forces by relying on international law. This is to be applauded, as compliance with international law is in the interest of long-term peace and security in the UK and in the international community, and on the rule of law. It does not necessarily mean that their justification of self-defence, or even collective self-defence, is accurate or sustainable once the full facts are known.

However, even if the UK argument of reliance on self-defence is in accordance with a part of international law, that is not sufficient to conclude that the targeted killing is in compliance with all of international law. It only means that the armed force by the drone could be used lawfully by the UK in Syrian territory. There are at least two other areas of international law that are also relevant and should be complied with: international humanitarian law (IHL); and international human rights law (IHRL). The former concerns the lawfulness of force within the armed conflict once it commences, and the latter applies at all times. I will focus here on the application of IHRL, including its interaction with IHL.

IHRL does not allow the targeting of individuals to kill them except in strictly limited circumstances. This was confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary Killings in his 2013 report Read the rest of this entry…

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On Preventive Killing

Published on September 17, 2015        Author: 

If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path to action. And this nation will act.

George W. Bush, 17 September 2002.

It seems to me that there are two different ways of understanding the targeted killing of UK citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin by a Royal Airforce-piloted drone on 21 August 2015, in Raqqa, Syria. (Khan was the target of the strike, and Amin was also killed by it. Both Khan and Amin are described as “ISIL fighters.”)

The first poses some difficult constitutional and public law questions for the UK government, but does not require any kind of radical re-interpretation of international law governing the use of force.

The second way of understanding the strike amounts to a sea change in the UK’s legal position, and indeed aligns it with several US legal positions in the “war on terror” which, hitherto, no European state has formally embraced.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Moving Beyond the Asylum Muddle

Published on September 14, 2015        Author: 

The horrific images of refugees dying on European shores seem – finally – to have galvanized public opinion in favor of a shift to protection rather than deterrence. Some leaders seem still to be committed to harsh action – Hungarian Prime Minister Orban’s comment that the arrival of refugees threatened “Europe’s Christian roots” and the decision of Czech officers to use indelible ink to write numbers on the hands of refugees, reminiscent of the Nazi tattooing of Jews and other minorities, being especially odious examples.

But the proverbial tide does seem to have turned. Pro-refugee marches in Vienna, Icelanders demanding that their government let them open their homes to refugees, and English and German football fans displaying banners welcoming refugees to join them at matches seem to have paved the way for the momentous announcement by Austria and Germany that those countries would open their doors to refugees trapped in Hungary. German Chancellor Merkel has emerged as the voice of reason, rightly insisting that the protection of refugees “is morally and legally required” of all state parties to the Refugee Convention.

What now?

First, it is important not to simply go back to “business as usual” when the immediate humanitarian emergency ebbs. The current pressures will abate as some states – inside and beyond Europe, as recent French and Argentinian responses attest – will inevitably follow the Austrian and German lead and open their doors to at least some refugees. The impending arrival of winter weather will moreover stymie the ability of many refugees – in particular, the most vulnerable – to travel to safety. While relative calm has historically inclined governments to return to their protectionist ways, the failure to seize this moment to minimize the risk of future protection tragedies would represent a serious ethical lapse.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Querying the Roles for Human Rights Bodies in the Interplay between International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law

Published on September 11, 2015        Author: 

As noted earlier this week, EJIL:Talk! together with Lawfare and InterCross are running a joint series over the next few weeks on International Law and Armed Conflict. The latest post in the series, over at Lawfare, is by Joanna Harrington, (Professor of Law at the University of Alberta). She begins her post by noting that:MG0146cropped

“Complexities remain with respect to the interaction between the fields of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) in situations of armed conflict. Focusing on the human rights side of this interplay, there are questions about which human rights obligations apply, to what extent, and to whom, as well as questions about the role for international human rights monitoring bodies. Should the human rights bodies, for example, see their role as one of shaping the contours of IHL?

The words “human rights body” can easily be misread as if to treat all human rights bodies as being the same, with the same functions, and with the same effect or influence by virtue of being a “human rights body”. Included within this term are courts and commissions, committees and working groups, but from a Canada/U.S. perspective, there is interest in those human rights bodies that are not courts, since both countries cannot be subject to the European Court system, and nor have they accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Question of an Accountability Gap

Often these discussions begin by identifying a perceived accountability gap, drawing attention to the lack of an international adjudicative body to provide authoritative interpretations of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. Having identified a gap, it is assumed that the gap must be filled. But there are times in international negotiations when gaps serve a purpose, perhaps when efforts to achieve agreement on a particular aspect or mechanism have failed.”

Read more at Lawfare

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The Ballad of Google Spain

Published on September 7, 2015        Author: 

This poem was submitted for our Last Page, but given its wit and topicality I thought it should go on our First Page, namely in this Editorial. Kudos to Paul Bernal.

There was a case, called ‘Google Spain’
That caused us all no end of pain
Do we have a right to be forgotten?
Are Google’s profits a touch ill-gotten?

From over the pond came shouts of ‘Free Speech!’
So loud and so shrill they were almost a screech
From the ECJ came a bit of a gloat
‘We’ve got that Google by the throat!’

Said Google ‘If it’s games you play’
‘We’ll do that too, all night and day’
So they blocked and blocked, and told the press
‘It’s that evil court, we’re so distressed’

’Such censorship,’ they cried and cried
Though ‘twas themselves who did the deeds
They didn’t need to block the links
They were just engaging in hijinks

And many stood beside them proudly
Shouting ‘freedom’, oh so loudly
‘Google is our free-speech hero!’
‘We’ll fight with them, let’s be clear-oh!’

Others watched and raised their eyebrows
Listening wryly to these vows
And thought ‘is Google really pure?’
‘From what we’ve seen, we’re far less sure.’

For Google blocks all kinds of sites
‘Specially for those with copyright
And, you know, this isn’t funny,
When blocking things will make them money

This isn’t just about free speech
No matter how much Google preach
What matters here is really power
Is this truly Google’s hour?

Does Google have complete control
Or do the law courts have a role?
Time will tell – but on the way
Our privacy will have to pay…

Paul Bernal

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The Drowning Child

Published on September 3, 2015        Author: 

If you haven’t already – read, look, and weep. Then reflect, perhaps, on why and how it is that such images are able to penetrate the walls we erect to shield ourselves from an uncomfortable reality, even while we are rationally fully aware of that reality. Having done so, I could not help but remember this other, hypothetical drowning child (see also here and here):

To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.

I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child so far outweighs the cost of getting one’s clothes muddy and missing a class, that they refuse to consider it any kind of excuse for not saving the child. Does it make a difference, I ask, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do.

Once we are all clear about our obligations to rescue the drowning child in front of us, I ask: would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself? Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no moral difference to the situation. I then point out that we are all in that situation of the person passing the shallow pond: we can all save lives of people, both children and adults, who would otherwise die, and we can do so at a very small cost to us: the cost of a new CD, a shirt or a night out at a restaurant or concert, can mean the difference between life and death to more than one person somewhere in the world – and overseas aid agencies like Oxfam overcome the problem of acting at a distance.

At this point the students raise various practical difficulties. Can we be sure that our donation will really get to the people who need it? Doesn’t most aid get swallowed up in administrative costs, or waste, or downright corruption? Isn’t the real problem the growing world population, and is there any point in saving lives until the problem has been solved? These questions can all be answered: but I also point out that even if a substantial proportion of our donations were wasted, the cost to us of making the donation is so small, compared to the benefits that it provides when it, or some of it, does get through to those who need our help, that we would still be saving lives at a small cost to ourselves – even if aid organizations were much less efficient than they actually are.

I have always found this argument in its essence to be incredibly compelling, even if I am no utilitarian, and even if Singer’s argument when brought to its fullest is far too demanding of most of us. But even so, as the “migrant” crisis is sweeping Europe, as children are drowning on its shores, I feel that some people who are not moved by the big picture (like this guy) might, perhaps, be moved if they were asked a smaller, more human-scale question: what would you do if you saw a child drowning in a pond?

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Data Protection in International Organizations and the New UNHCR Data Protection Policy: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Published on August 31, 2015        Author: 

In May 2015 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published its Policy on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR (Data Protection Policy). The Policy may seem to be merely an internal guidance document addressed to the staff members of an international organization. However, as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations, established by the General Assembly pursuant to Article 22 of the UN Charter, working for millions of refugees and with thousands of other organizations active in the field of protection and assistance, UNHCR bears a certain responsibility when it sets internal standards which inevitably also have an external impact. Moreover, the Policy highlights the growing importance of data protection in international law, particularly for the work of international organizations.

Against this background, our blog addresses some interesting underlying legal issues of public international law raised by the Policy. In particular, it discusses the relevance of data protection to the work of international organizations, including UN agencies, and what level of data protection is appropriate and required for international organizations in general and UNHCR in particular, taking into account the humanitarian context in which the organization often operates. Read the rest of this entry…

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