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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

The Bottom Line of Jaloud

Published on November 26, 2014        Author: 

Following up on Aurel’s post on the Jaloud v. Netherlands case, I want to add a few brief thoughts regarding the bottom line of the judgment and what it means for the overseas military operations of European states.

First, Jaloud confirms the general trend in the European Court’s case law towards a more expansive approach to the extraterritorial application of the ECHR. Whether you think an expansive approach is a good idea or not, the trend is there, since the normative pull of universality is hard to resist, and as the Court becomes increasingly more familiar with applying the Convention to extraordinary situations. I personally feel that the judgment is correct in its basic approach to extraterritoriality, even if there is some conceptual confusion between various questions of jurisdiction and attribution, on which I will write separately. But the basic message to states is this: trying to exploit the many contradictions in the Court’s case law on extraterritoriality to deny the applicability of the Convention in this case or that will in most circumstances end in defeat. Rather than fighting a losing battle, states should focus their energies on arguments on the merits on which they are more likely to win.

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Jaloud v Netherlands: New Directions in Extra-Territorial Military Operations

Published on November 24, 2014        Author: 

Last week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in Jaloud v Netherlands. The case arose out of the fatal shooting of Azhar Sabah Jaloud by Dutch troops in the early hours of 21 April 2004 at a checkpoint in Iraq. The applicant claimed that the investigation into the incident was inadequate and therefore in breach of the Netherlands’ procedural obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Jaloud is the latest in a growing line of Strasbourg cases addressing the application of the Convention to extra-territorial military operations. The Court’s jurisprudence on the subject is a source of endless fascination. Like any good thriller, its twists and turns leave the observer suspended in fearful anticipation on a never ending quest for legal certainty. Will the law stretch as far as the facts or is jurisdiction a threshold too far? Will the Court prevail against conceptual confusion? Which of its dicta is up for silent reversal? And what will be the next victim of normative conflict?

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The Dust Has Not Yet Settled: The Italian Constitutional Court Disagrees with the International Court of Justice, Sort of

Published on November 12, 2014        Author: 

As Riccardo Pavone surmised last March, the ICJ judgment in Jurisdictional Immunities (here) has not been the last word in the matter of reparations for the forced labour of Italian prisoners of war in Germany. As reported by Christian Tams (here), the Italian Constitutional Court (here) has found the provisions adopted by Italy to implement the ICJ’s judgment contrary to the Italian Constitution, more precisely to the guarantee of access to a court. Those provisions had been meant to oblige Italian courts to follow the judgment of the ICJ, which required those courts to extend jurisdictional immunity to a foreign State (ie Germany) also for actions which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity violating inviolable human rights.

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The United States and the Torture Convention: A Memo from Harold Koh

Published on November 11, 2014        Author: 

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the United States will appear before the United Nations Committee Against Torture for a discussion of the United States’ Third to Fifth Periodic Reports under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Degrading Treatment. If the size and membership of the United States’ delegation to the Committee is anything to go by, the US is taking the session very seriously indeed. The US delegation includes high level representation from the State, Justice, Defence, Homeland Security and other Departments of the Federal Government as well as representatives of states. The dialogue between the US delegation and the Committee will be webcast here.

One key issue that will come up in the discussion is whether the US accepts that the Convention applies to conduct  of its officials and agents beyond its territory. In the list of issues that the Committee presented to the US in advance of the submission of its report (a list that was prepared five years ago now!), the Committee asked the US to:

“Please provide updated information on any changes in the State party’s position that the Convention is not applicable at all times, whether in peace, war or armed conflict, in any territory under its jurisdiction and is not without prejudice to the provisions of any other international instrument, pursuant to article 1, paragraph 2, and 16, paragraph 2, of the Convention.”

In its report, the United States was evasive on the question of the extraterritorial application of the Convention. It stated:

“6.  . . . It should be noted that the report does not address the geographic scope of the Convention as a legal matter, although it does respond to related questions from the Committee in factual terms.”

However, it then went on to note that:

“13. Under U.S. law, officials of all government agencies are prohibited from engaging in torture, at all times, and in all places, not only in territory under U.S. jurisdiction. Under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), Pub. L. No. 109-163, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd (“No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the U.S. Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment”), every U.S. official, wherever he or she may be, is also prohibited from engaging in acts that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This prohibition is enforced at all levels of U.S. government.”

Thus, while the US was indicating that US law and policy forbid torture by US officials wherever committed, it failed to acknowledge that the treaty obligations went this far. The US delegation will no doubt be asked to clarify its position before the Committee. A recent report in the New York Times indicates that there is an internal debate in the US administration about whether to abandon the US’ previous position that that provisions of the Convention Against Torture are restricted to acts on US territory. Apparently, while State Department lawyers are  pushing for a change in this position,

“military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture . . .”

In a recent intervention in this debate, Harold Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School and, Legal Adviser to the US State Department in first term of the Obama Administration, last week, wrote a “Memo to the President: Say Yes to the Torture Ban,” in Politico Magazine. Read the rest of this entry…

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After Gaza 2014: Schabas

Published on November 4, 2014        Author: 

In the face of the heart-rending loss and injury of civilian life including children in the recent Gaza conflagration, it was neither unexpected nor inappropriate for the UN Rights Council to announce on 23 July 2014 that it was to launch ‘an independent inquiry to investigate purported violations of international humanitarian law and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’.

People hold very strong views on the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Articles in EJIL dealing with this topic are always amongst the most downloaded. Passions run high, tempers flare, intemperate language is used. When such is translated into legal writing there is, with some exceptions, a tendency whereby the author’s political and moral views on the conflict translate almost linearly into legal conclusions. I say this with the experience of 25 years on the Board of Editors of EJIL. This is not necessarily an indictment of bad faith or an accusation of ‘brief writing’ disguised as scholarship.  One of the least contested insights of Legal Realism is the manner in which our normative sensibilities and sensitivities condition the very way we experience both facts and the law. But there is plenty of barely disguised lawfare too. Given our own scholarly mission and our belief, mocked by some, that the search for objective legal evaluation is a worthy, if at times Sisyphean, endeavour, we have often ‘balanced’ things out by encouraging debate and reaction pieces. This predates my tenure as Editor-in-Chief. Those with a long memory will recall the exchange between Francis Boyle and James Crawford on the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence in one of our earliest issues.

One is typically blind to one’s own shortcomings. Personally I take some measure of comfort from the fact that my occasional legal writings on the conflict are regularly criticized, always with passion, by partisans on one or the other sides of the conflict, most recently in our own EJIL: Talk! in response to comments I made on the Levy Report.

Be that as it may, when the firing and killing ceases and judicial inquiry takes over it is in the interest of justice and the credibility of the bodies who administer it to adopt those other idioms of the law – dispassionate, ‘blind’, fair – and to heed the wisdom of justice needing not only to be done but to be seen to be done. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Naked Rambler in the European Court

Published on October 30, 2014        Author: 

Readers may recall that a couple of years ago I wrote about the story of Stephen Gough, aka the Naked Rambler, a man who has been repeatedly incarcerated in British prisons since 2006 for his refusal to wear any clothing in public. Indeed, he has spent most of that time in solitary confinement, since he could not join the rest of the prison population while refusing to wear clothes. Gough’s behaviour is due to a strongly and sincerely held belief that there is nothing shameful about the naked human body. And while Gough certainly has been obstinate (and has for some unfathomable reason sacrificed his family and other relationships for the sake of this cause), he is not crazy – indeed, his psychiatric evaluations have been stellar.

This case is so interesting precisely because it juxtaposes the expressive interests of a single individual against the preferences of the vast majority of ordinary people, who disapprove of public nudity, and because of the way that the machinery of the state is used to enforce a societal nudity taboo. Indeed, Gough’s case now rambled all the way to Strasbourg. This week, a unanimous Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights rejected Gough’s claims that his freedom of expression and right to private life were violated by his convictions in the UK (app. no. 49327/11).

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A Few Thoughts on Hassan v. United Kingdom

Published on October 22, 2014        Author: 

Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne has written an excellent analysis of the European Court’s recent Hassan v. UK judgment, which I fully subscribe to and have nothing substantive to add. Rather, I wish to use this post to outline some thoughts on the practical impact of Hassan, its bottom line and possible future influence.

(1) When it comes to the extraterritorial application of the Convention, the Court has now reaffirmed that de facto physical custody will ipso facto constitute Article 1 jurisdiction, within the personal model of jurisdiction as authority and control over an individual. The Court did not seem to put any limits on this principle (and rightly so), not even the vague idea of ‘public powers’ that it invented in Bankovic and imported into the personal model of jurisdiction in Al-Skeini (cf. the Court’s finding in Hassan, para. 75 that the events took place before the UK assumed responsibility for the maintenance of security in South East Iraq, which was the basis for the ‘public powers’ in Al-Skeini). Similarly, the Court (again, rightly) focused on factual control, disregarding some of the formal arrangements under a memorandum of understanding between the UK and the US (para. 78), and finding that ‘Tarek Hassan fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom from the moment of his capture by United Kingdom troops, at Umm Qasr on 23 April 2003, until his release from the bus that took him from Camp Bucca to the drop-off point, most probably Umm Qasr on 2 May 2003 ‘ (para. 80).

The bottom-line of this approach is that whenever the military forces of a European state capture any individual, no matter where that individual is located (note how the Court again, like in Al-Skeini, explicitly avoided ruling whether the territory of South Iraq was under UK control for the purpose of the spatial conception of jurisdiction (para. 75)), the Convention will apply by virtue of the personal conception of Article 1 jurisdiction as authority and control over individuals. The Convention will apply on this basis not only to detention operations in Afghanistan, but also to situations such as the French intervention in Mali, the capture of Ukrainian soldiers by Russian forces in Crimea, etc. This is fully consistent with the English High Court’s Serdar Mohammed judgment, which rejected the UK government’s attempts to confine Al-Skeini to the facts of Iraq (for our previous coverage of Serdar Mohammed, see here).

In short, European soldiers carry the ECHR with them whenever they engage in capture operations. Military legal advisers and other officials will hence inevitably have to take the Convention into account (as many have been doing anyway). Use of force operations are not so comprehensively covered – at least for the time being.

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On the Phylum and Logic of Human Rights

Published on October 20, 2014        Author: 

Back CameraDino Kritsiotis is Chair of Public International Law in the University of Nottingham, where he heads the International Humanitarian Law Unit of the Human Rights Law Centre (established in November 2012).

The question of the existence of a ‘general’ international human rights law suggests a discrete system of traditions, practices and routines that have taken form following the ‘heuristic references’ to human rights found in the Charter of the United Nations (Crawford, Brownlie’s Principles of Public International Law, 8th ed., 2012, p. 234). The idea of this exercise seems to be to extract the operating principles or systemic themes of this ‘specialist regime’ (Chinkin ‘Sources’, in International Human Rights Law, 2nd ed., 2014, p. 75),  even though this regime has evidently taken root ‘within general public international law’ (ibid.). It is thus because of this older, overarching system that human rights law possesses normative authority at the international level, though some have argued that its relationship with/in the discipline of public international law may now need to be reconfigured or rethought (for example, in introducing his International Human Rights Law: Cases, Materials and Commentary, 2nd ed., 2014, De Schutter considers that ‘the colonization of international law by human rights perfectly illustrates the formation of a “self-contained regime” (at p. 1)).

Perhaps it is important at this point to identify the level of our analysis. We are not concerned here with a functional assessment of how ‘human rights’ may or may not have been protected by public international law before their official conceptualization after World War II. Such an analysis was instructively undertaken by Brownlie for environmental protection in the Natural Resources Journal (1973), Vol. 13, pp. 179-189, where he concluded that ‘[t]hough the position may soon change, general international law (or customary law) contains no rules or standards related to the protection of the environment as such’ (p. 179; my emphasis). He went on nevertheless to specify how three aspects of the lex lata of that time had ‘major relevance’ for the realization of environmental protection: the rules relating to State responsibility; the territorial sovereignty of States and, finally, the concept of the freedom of the seas. If we were to attempt a similar exercise for human rights, we would presumably find that (general) public international law did aim towards the protection of human rights before they were known eo nomine as it were. We would find that the rules on State responsibility yielded their own dividends for human rights protection through the  notion of diplomatic protection, as well as the fact that, for the most part, the territorial sovereignty of States rejected assertions of male captus bene detentus. Furthermore, under the jus ad bellum, Oppenheim’s treatise on international law adverted to the number of jurists who believed that intervention ‘even has a basis of right, when exercised in the interest of humanity for the purpose of stopping religious persecution and endless cruelties in time of peace and war’ (Vol. I, 2nd ed., §137). The Martens Clause, too, instructed High Contracting Parties of the 1899 Hague Convention (II) on the Laws and Customs of War on Land that populations and belligerents stood to benefit from the protections offered by ‘the laws of humanity’ (amongst other things).

Against such functional assessments, we can imagine the possibilities of the technical identification of this ‘general’ international human rights law—of what it is and how it may have come to ‘colonize’ aspects (perhaps even the greater cohort) of public international law. Reflecting back on Simma and Alston’s seminal article on ‘The Sources of Human Rights Law: Custom, Jus Cogens, and General Principles’, AYbIL (1988-1989), Vol. 12, pp. 82-108, it is striking to observe how, for the most part, the analysis of that article is organized around a series of disciplinary narratives (e.g. the dichotomization of conventional and customary arrangements, the focus on ‘inter-State relations’ (p. 87)). And, from here, the context of human rights becomes the occasion for developing alternative approaches toward their ultimate realization (at pp. 100-101: ‘there are strong grounds for arguing that States Parties to the Charter [of the United Nations], having in good faith undertaken treaty obligations to respect “human rights”, are subsequently bound to accept, for the purposes of interpreting their treaty obligations, the definition of “human rights” which has evolved over time on the basis of the virtually unanimous practice of the relevant organs of the United Nations’; at p. 102: ‘[general] [p]rinciples brought to the fore in this “direct” way … would (and should) then percolate down into domestic fora, instead of being elevated from the domestic level to that of international law by way of analogy’). Accordingly, methodologies on human rights must therefore work from within existing structures and realities; it is through ‘trojan’ strategies of assertion and influence that change will be brought to bear upon public international law as a whole and inform how it is to be used and put to use in practice, all in the name of the realization of human rights.

Time and again, we are thus reminded of the system of public international law to which human rights in fact belong and from whose cloth they are actually cut: Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Human Rights
 

We Need to Look at International Human Rights Law (Also) as a Whole

Published on October 17, 2014        Author: 

Eva bootEva Brems is a Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Human Rights Center at Ghent University, Belgium.

As a political and ethical project, human rights are one, indivisible and universal. As law however, they are fragmented. Yet most situations of alleged human rights violations fall within the scope of several human rights provisions from different sources at the same time. Hence the relevance of a holistic perspective on international human rights law.

Fragmentation

The complex architecture of international human rights law is characterized by a multitude of highly diverse sources. These sources can be differentiated in several cross-cutting ways: by governance level (regional, world), by their material scope (general, categorical , single issue), by their personal scope (universal or specific target group), by their legal force (hard or soft law) and by the type of monitoring mechanism that accompanies them.

The fragmentation of human rights law is accompanied by increasing specialization of human rights scholarship. As the field has grown, general human rights experts have largely been replaced by experts of ‘religious freedom’, ‘children’s rights’, ‘the European Convention on Human Rights’ and such. While this has brought the discipline to a higher lzevel, it has also contributed to creating a fragmented, compartmentalized view of human rights law.

Agents’ Perspectives

In all this, there is a risk to overlook the basic fact that rights holders as well as public authorities and other duty bearers under human rights norms are confronted simultaneously with a multitude of these sources. To any particular situation, a dozen relevant human rights sources may apply. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Human Rights
 

Is There General International Human Rights Law?

Published on October 16, 2014        Author: 

Nigel RodleySir Nigel Rodley KBE, PhD (Essex) is Professor of Law and Chair of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. He is also Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee.

One can’t begin to answer this question without posing two prior questions:

(1) is there general international law (GIL); and

(2) if so, what are its indicia?

I shall offer brief answers as my personal take on the questions, fully conscious that the answers I choose are likely to predetermine the answer to the specific question posed.

As to the first question, I do believe that there is such a thing as GIL.  If I’m wrong, then by definition there is no such thing as general international human rights law (GIHRL). Assuming that there is GIL, then we are confronted by the second question. Here I offer my own understanding of the term.  GIL is that set of obligations presumptively binding on all states independently of any treaty-based obligation.  So, to find a category of GIL, one would look to any plausible combination of the so-called sources of international law, that is, in addition to treaties, customary international law (CIL), general principles of law, judicial decisions (especially international ones) and doctrine, as found in article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Evidently, CIL will be crucial, if only because a rule or an area of GIL will need at least not to be inconsistent with CIL.

Coming closer to content, GIL would have to include norms of jus cogens, but that would not close the list.  It is significant that one of the few incontrovertible rules of jus cogens is the human right not to be subjected to torture (see Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v Senegal) in 2012).  The prohibitions of genocide, slavery and racial discrimination and, I venture to suggest, discrimination on grounds of gender probably also qualify, as do other ‘non-derogable’ rights.  Still, if only jus cogens represented GIL, then that would evidently not be enough to establish a GIHRL.  But, by the same token, there would be no GIL of anything.  Just a few rules recognized as jus cogens would be the sum total of GIL.  One only has to state it, I hope, to demonstrate the unsustainability of the proposition. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Human Rights