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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

A Trio of Blockbuster Judgments from the UK Supreme Court

Published on January 17, 2017        Author: 

This morning the UK Supreme Court delivered three important judgments dealing with various claims alleging wrongful acts by the UK when fighting international terrorism (UK Supreme Court page; Guardian news report). In Belhaj and Rahmatullah No. 1 the Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s appeal, and found that the claim against the UK for its alleged complicity in torture and mistreatment of the claimants was not barred by rules of state immunity and the foreign act of state doctrine (press release; judgment). In Rahmatullah No. 1 and Mohammed the Court unanimously allowed the Government’s appeals, holding that, insofar as the respondents’ tort claims are based on acts of an inherently governmental nature in the conduct of foreign military operations by the Crown, these were Crown acts of state for which the Government cannot be liable in tort (press release; judgment). Finally, and perhaps of greatest interest to most of our readers, in Al-Waheed and Serdar Mohammed the Court, by 7 votes to 2 in a set of very complex judgments, held that British forces had power to take
and detain prisoners for periods exceeding 96 hours if this was necessary for imperative reasons of security, but that its procedures for doing so did not comply with ECHR article 5(4) because they did not afford prisoners an effective right to challenge their detention (press release; judgment). We will be covering these judgments in more detail soon.

I have only had the time to read Serdar Mohammed, which I am yet fully to digest, but here are some initial thoughts (we have of course extensively covered this case on the blog before). The two key judgments are those of Lord Sumption for the majority and Lord Reed for the minority; I must say that by and large I incline towards the latter. I am also troubled by some of the ipse dixit, rather casual references in the judgments of the majority justices to the lex specialis principle; the supposedly restrictive original intentions of the drafters of the ECHR with regard to its application extraterritorially and in armed conflict, which are in reality completely unknowable; similarly casual constructions of coherent narratives of a very messy field that confirm one’s own predispositions (e.g. that in Al-Skeini the Strasbourg Court unprecedentedly expanded the reach of the Convention to extraterritorial armed conflicts, when one could just as easily say that in Bankovic the Court unprecedentedly restricted the Convention’s reach); or the supposed unavailability of extraterritorial derogations, on which see more here.  That said, the judgments are thoughtful and rigorous even when one might disagree with them, which brings me to the Court’s main findings.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Practitioners’ Guide to Human Rights Law in Armed Conflict

Published on January 15, 2017        Author: 

The questions whether, when and how international human rights law applies to the activities of armed forces during armed conflict have been the subject of much discussion and litigation in the past couple of decades. It is now clear “that the protection offered by human rights conventions does not cease in case of armed conflict . . .” (International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on the Israeli Wall in Palestine (2004), para. 106).

However, what has been less clear is when those protections apply, especially when the state concerned is acting outside its territory, and how human rights law is to be applied in armed conflict. With regard to the latter question, one of the key issues is the relationship between human rights law, as it applies in conflict, and international humanitarian law as the law specifically designed for application in conflict. In the literature, and even in the case law, most attention has focussed on the when question (the question of applicability of human rights law) rather than the how question (the method and mode of application of human rights law). However, given that it is undoubtedly the case that there are circumstances when human rights law applies in armed conflict, even extraterritorially, the focus on the former set of questions, has led to an unfortunate lack of guidance as to how to apply (and to think about the application) of human rights law in situations of conflict.

Towards the end of last year, Oxford University Press published the Practitioners’ Guide to Human Rights in Law Armed Conflict (Murray, Akande, Garraway, Hampson, Lubell & Wilmhurst), a book that arises out of a project carried out by Chatham House under the leadership of Elizabeth Wilmhurst. The aim of this book is to provide guidance not only on when human rights law applies in situations of conflict, but, more importantly, on how it is to be applied.  As the Introduction to the book sets out, “The book is concerned primarily with giving guidance to the armed forces for the conduct and preparation of military operations.” (p. 2) However, it should be of assistance to all those who have to think about the application of human rights law in conflict – government officials, lawyers appearing before courts, members of non-governmental organizations and judges.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part (Chapters 1-4) provides an overview of human rights law, when it applies extraterritorially (ch. 3) and its relationship to the law of armed conflict (ch. 4). The second part (Chapters 5-17) provides detailed guidance on how human rights law applies to a range of issues that arise in armed conflict, eg the conduct of hostilities and targeting (ch. 5); weapons (ch. 7); prisoners of war and internment (ch. 8); occupation (ch. 10); and cyber operations (ch. 15). Read the rest of this entry…

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Trumping International Law? Implications of the 2016 US presidential election for the international legal order

Published on January 3, 2017        Author: 

Any assumptions about the implications of the 2016 US presidential election for international law are premature and tentative. There is no proper foreign policy programme against which one could evaluate the future policy of the new administration. We know from Trump’s announcements and from a foreign policy speech of 27 April 2016 that he opposes the Paris Agreement, the WTO, NAFTA, TTP and TTIP as well as the nuclear deal with Iran. Thus, political analysts immediately described the election of Trump as ‘the beginning of a new and darker global order’ and announced the end of the post-World War II order. International lawyers assume that a post-human rights agenda lies ahead. Do we finally face the end of the liberal international order and globalization more generally?

Of course, there are also other voices: those who compare a possible withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement to its non-participation in the Kyoto Protocol; those who hold that globalization is anyway inevitable; those who stress that populism in Latin America, where opposition to globalization was very strong, is in decline again; those who compare Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan; and those who count on new technologies and the young generation. If it was just for the election of Trump I would probably share the idea that his policy may only represent a temporary slump in the overall progressive development of the international legal order. However, the symbolism of Trump’s election is not an isolated incident but fits into a more general pattern. Certain phenomena indicate that we currently observe a crisis of international law of unusual proportions which requires us to reassess the state and role of law in the global order Read the rest of this entry…

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Has the European Court of Human Rights Turned a Blind Eye to Alleged Rights Abuses in Turkey?

Published on December 28, 2016        Author: 

On 8 December 2016, in the case of Zihni v. Turkey, (App. No. 59061/16) the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Court”) rejected a second application arising out of alleged violations in Turkey in the aftermath of the attempted coup on 15 July 2016.

The Court’s dismissal of the complaint for failure to exhaust available domestic remedies (Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights – hereinafter “the Convention”) is consistent with its 17 November 2016 decision in the case of Mercan v. Turkey (App. No. 56511/16), so it came as no surprise. In the Mercan case, the Court similarly dismissed the application, which concerned the unlawfulness, length and conditions of a judge’s pre-trial detention in the absence of any evidence.

In Zihni v. Turkey, the applicant was suspended from his duties as a school’s deputy headmaster on 25 July 2016 and subsequently dismissed from public service, together with 50,874 other civil servants, by the list appended to the Decree no. 672 on 1 September 2016, on account of his alleged “membership of, affiliation, link or connection” to terrorist organizations.

The application before the Court in Zihni cited numerous rights violations: (1) lack of access to a court (Article 6, Article 13 and Article 15); (2) no punishment without law (Article 7); (3) violation of the right to respect for his family life (Article 8); and (4) discrimination on account of his dismissal (Article 14). Read the rest of this entry…

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Taking Stock of the Law on Targeting, Part II

Published on December 15, 2016        Author: 

On Monday, I used the recently released U.S. report on military operations to assess the law on targeting. I argued that the dominant mode for analyzing these operations — asking whether international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL), or a combination of both regimes governs — is problematic. The targeting rules in each regime are context-dependent, so the rules that have been developed for one context would not necessarily require the same thing if they were extended to a different context. Focusing so heavily on the regime choice is not only unhelpful but can be counterproductive. It reinforces the idea that the regime choice is ultimately what determines the codes of conduct. And so, it makes it harder to develop the law for situations that fit neatly into neither regime. Today, I’ll use U.S. targeting policies to amplify on my argument.

U.S. Position on Targeted Killings

The U.S. position is significant precisely because it pushes past the stale IHL-versus-IHRL debate. The United States does not treat the regime choice as particularly relevant to question of which targeting rules apply.

The U.S. legal claim seems to be that, although IHRL might apply to certain cross-border targeting operations, IHL defines or supersedes what IHRL would require; IHRL does not have independent force. Yet for years now, the United States has made clear that it does not intend to exploit, in all contexts in which it says IHL applies, the expansive authorities that are usually associated with IHL. The United States claims that, outside designated areas of active hostilities, it generally will use force only when someone “poses ‘a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons’” and “only when capture of an individual is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” (See p. 25 of the U.S. report.) Read the rest of this entry…

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Taking Stock of the Law on Targeting, Part I

Published on December 12, 2016        Author: 

Last week, President Obama released a report that outlines U.S. legal and policy positions on, among other things, operations that target to kill nonstate actors. (See here, here, here, and here for useful summaries of the report.) In October, the U.K. government addressed but largely dodged the targeting-related inquiries of the British Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. And over the past few months, the blogosphere has been abuzz with yet another round in the seemingly inexhaustible debate on how international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) intersect in this area. So, now seems like a good time for some stocktaking.

One thing that stands out in all of this is that, despite significant developments in the practice over the past 15 years, much of the legal analysis is stuck in a rut. Most legal commentators assess targeting operations by first asking which regime governs — IHL, IHRL, or a combination of the two. For some time now, I’ve argued that that approach obfuscates, rather than clarifies, what’s at stake. It rests on certain intuitions about what each regime would require if its substantive rules applied. But these intuitions are contestable and often wrong. In other words, analysts tend to treat the regime choice as a proxy for the applicable codes of conduct, but it is a bad proxy. At best, then, their approach distracts attention from the questions that really matter — questions about what is or is not permitted. At worst, it gets in the way of meaningful regulation. I will unpack what I mean by this in two blog posts.

Identifying the Legal Framework

The traditional test for a non-international armed conflict — and thus for applying IHL to current operations against non state actors — requires that the violence reach a certain level of intensity. In September, Adil Haque argued against that intensity threshold. He claimed that an armed group’s organization and capacity to sustain military operations should suffice to trigger IHL. The practical effect of his proposal would be to apply IHL to early strikes that occur before any intensity threshold is satisfied. Because such strikes might also be governed by IHRL, Haque’s proposal provoked the most recent round in the IHL-versus-IHRL debate. Read the rest of this entry…

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SOGI Mandate Passes Third Committee Hurdle

On 21 November 2016, the Third Committee of the General Assembly (GA) voted to uphold the United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in a very closely fought vote. The decision represents a major stepping stone for the promotion of LGBTI rights, and provides much-needed reassurance regarding the ability of the Human Rights Council (HRC) – and the broader UN machinery – to adequately combat international human rights challenges.

Two main points of contention emerged during discussions leading up to, and during the day of the vote: 1) whether there is a legal basis for the mandate (the substantive argument); and 2) whether the GA has the power to override decisions made by the HRC (the procedural argument). It was the latter argument that generated the most discussion, and will therefore be the main focus of this post.

This post will begin with an analysis of what exactly happened on the day of the vote, and will be followed by an exploration of the two main arguments. The post will end with a discussion on what this vote could mean both in the short-term and long-term.

The day’s proceedings

When formally introducing the resolution to the Third Committee, the African Group had announced an oral amendment to OP2, stating that consideration of resolution 32/2 should be suspended until the 72nd session of the GA, a detail missing from the initial draft which had left it open to the criticism that the mandate was being suspended indefinitely. As noted by the representative for Brazil an optimistic reading of this amendment would have been misleading: specifying that this item will be revisited in one year’s time does not alter the far-reaching negative impact of the move. Furthermore, there are no reasonable grounds to think that the position taken by the African Group would change by next autumn. Read the rest of this entry…

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How to Bridge the Gap? Corporate and Government Surveillance Examined at the UN

Published on December 7, 2016        Author: 

On 21 November, the UN General Assembly Third Committee adopted the draft resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age. This came at the same time the UK passed a law (the Investigatory Powers Act) which codified what are arguably the most extreme surveillance powers in the history of any western democracy.

This is the third time the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution on the topic, and as it did in 2014, the UN has called on all states to review their surveillance legislation, policies, and practices “with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all their obligations under international human rights law”.

This comes at a time in which governments around the world are adopting laws that give wider surveillance powers to state security agencies, beyond what is permitted under existing human rights law. Just to name a few, Privacy International had documented this trend in a range of countries, including in China, Colombia, France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

So, which part of effective implementation of human rights law do governments need explained? Read the rest of this entry…

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The Kunduz Affair and the German State Liability Regime – The Federal Court of Justice’s Turn to Anachronism

Published on December 5, 2016        Author: 

On 6 October 2016 the Federal Court of Justice (henceforth “Court”) decided on an appeal against the Higher Regional Court of Cologne’s dismissal of two actions for compensation brought against the Federal Republic of Germany (III ZR 140/15, only available in German): Abdul Hannan sought compensation for the death of two of his sons in the amount of 40.000 Euro, Qureisha Rauf, a mother of seven, sought alimentation for the death of her husband and father of her children in the amount of 50.000 Euro. The death of their relatives was the result of a fatal airstrike ordered by Colonel Klein who was in charge of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz in the northern part of Afghanistan. The PRT was institutionally embedded in the framework of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Whilst Klein was operationally subordinated to the ISAF commander and in the end the NATO Commander-in-Chief he remained within the chain of command of the German Federal Army ultimately being subject to orders of the German Ministry of Defense. The ordered strike was directed against two fuel tanks previously stolen by Taliban from PRT’s premises which were stuck in a sandbank close by. Fearing that these tanks would be used for an attack against the PRT camp Klein commanded their destruction after receiving the information of a military informant that no civilians were present at the relevant location which infrared pictures delivered by US-American fighter aircrafts seemed to support. In retrospect these assumption proved wrong: The attack led to the death of 100 to 150 people, mostly civilians who gathered around the fuel tanks out of curiosity, others were apparently forced by the Taliban to assist with the recovery of the tanks (with regard to the criminal investigation against Klein see here).

A Legal Bombshell

The lower courts were unable to find that Germany incurred liability based on Art. 34 Basic Law in conjunction with § 839 German Civil Code since the claimants failed to establish that Klein violated ius in bello norms – Art. 51, 57 of the First Additional Protocol and Art. 13 of the Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions were particualrly in question. The Court, however, went beyond that by asserting that the state liability regime does not apply with regard to actions of the German army in the context of armed conflicts per se. The Court’s finding can be considered a legal bombshell since this question has been left open within previous judgments (see the Court’s “Varvarin” judgment of 2nd November 2006, III ZR 190/05). Until now both the Court itself as well as the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) applied an “even if” argumentative strategy in similar cases: Not explicitly deciding whether actions within armed conflicts fell into the scope of the liability regime, they limited themselves to finding that even if they did, compensatory claims would remain unsuccessful since other conditions – especially a breach of a duty on part of German state officials – were not met (see FCC, “Varvarin” decision of 3th August 2013 – 2 BvR 2660/06, 2 BvR 487/07 – available in English).

Viewed against the background of German constitutional law as well as obligations stemming from international law – especially the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) – this decision suffers from methodological and substantive deficiencies and is hardly tenable. Read the rest of this entry…

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