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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

Qatar’s Reservations to the ICCPR: Anything new under the VCLT Sun?

Published on September 19, 2019        Author: 

On 21 May 2018, Qatar become the third country in the Gulf region to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This followed Kuwait in 1996 and Bahrain in 2006. Qatar’s ratification came with a long list of reservations and statements. That these reservations and statements have similarities to those of its two neighbors in the Gulf region may suggest that there was not much new in them. Yet, they are novel in two respects. First, they are the first ICCPR reservations and statements that can be assessed under the ‘Vienna plus regime’ adopted by the International Law Commission in 2011. There have been ICCPR ratifications post-2011, but none of these had reservations. Second, Qatar’s reservations have attracted objections from 21 states – the largest number to date. As such, the case of Qatar also provides an opportunity to consider the extent to which the objecting states cohere with the guidelines provided by the ILC.

Qatar’s reservations to the ICCPR

At the time it ratified the ICCPR Qatar entered two reservations. These are to Article 3 (equal rights of men and women to enjoy Covenant rights) and to Article 23 (4) (equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution).

The reservation to Article 3 indicates that the line of succession to the throne is governed by Article 8 of the Constitution of Qatar. The Constitution only permits male members of the royal family to be in the line of succession. Qatar justifies its reservation to Article 23(4) under a presumption of incompatibility with Islamic Sharia, which is the main source of legislation under the Qatari Constitution.

Qatar also entered five interpretive statements to the ICCPR. These concern the definition of inhuman and degrading punishment (Article 7), freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief (Article 18), the marriageable age for men and women (Article 23.2), the definition of trade unions (Article 22) and the protection of the rights of religious minorities (Article 27).

For the first three of these statements, Qatar indicated that its interpretations of Articles 7, 18 and 23 will be guided by Islamic Sharia and, in the case of any conflict, the Sharia will prevail. Concerning the definition of trade unions, Qatar stated that this will be interpreted with reference to its labour law and national legislation. Qatar further stated that the protection of the rights of persons from religious minorities under Article 27 will be respected to the extent that ‘they do not violate the rules of public order and public morals, the protection of public safe[t]y and public health, or the rights of and basic freedoms of others’. Read the rest of this entry…

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Statelessness is back (not that it ever went away…)

Published on September 12, 2019        Author: 

Citizenship deprivation and statelessness are very much back in fashion. States increasingly resort to such measures to deal with those returning from foreign wars, or as a sanction for those otherwise deemed undesirable and unwanted – it must certainly seem easier than living up to their obligations actually to combat terrorist activities or war crimes or crimes against humanity (see here).

States are also ‘cracking down’ on citizenship claims and on the rights of refugees and migrants rights in orchestrated, if often chaotic, policies and practices seemingly designed to cultivate discrimination and division in society, often in the hope of some electoral advantage. Former UK Home Secretary, Theresa May’s ‘really hostile environment’ had such objectives (see here), while India’s current focus on minorities conveniently identified by reference to religion (see here and here and here), is not so very far removed from Myanmar’s programme of violence and persecution against the Rohingya it claims to be stateless (see here).

To any government which, thanks to the idle musings of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (see here), argues that citizenship is a privilege, not a right, one may as easily answer the contrary, for many a government these days seems bent on trashing precisely those responsibilities which are its raison d’être.

On the international plane, however, the State does have responsibilities with regard to its citizens. Among others, the State must ensure that they do not violate human rights and that they do not harm other States, whether through cross-border pollution, transnational criminal activities, or even by reason of their having to seek asylum from persecution, conflict or the risk of other serious harm. What is more, these responsibilities also apply after the fact, obliging States to do what may be required, for example, through prosecution and punishment, to uphold the integrity and efficacy of internationally agreed measures – to punish torturers, or those who have engaged in internationally proscribed terrorist activities; in short, to recognize and accept responsibility for those who have been formed among us, no matter how wrong the path subsequently chosen.

When citizenship enters the picture, does international law have much to say? The ‘old’ view that everyone should have a nationality, and only one nationality, has long since had to yield to the realities of a globalised world. What’s more, it has so far proved impossible to get States formally to accept constraints on their sovereign competence in nationality matters, even though what a States does in relation to nationality is entitled to recognition by others only so far as it is consistent with international law. And international law does have something to say, recognizing the link between people and territory, between the individual and their own country, between the competence to expel and the duty to admit.

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Human Rights and the Environment: The UN Human Rights Committee Affirms the Duty to Protect

Published on September 9, 2019        Author: 

Recently, the Human Rights Committee published its views in the case Portillo Cáceres v. Paraguay (currently available only in Spanish). In this landmark decision, the Committee dealt, for the first time, with the question of the States’ duty to protect individuals from environmental degradation under articles 6 (right to life) and 17 (protection of the family) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In doing so, the Committee followed the lead of several regional human rights institutions. The decision might help in strengthening the recognition of environmental protection as an element of human rights protection.

A brief summary of the case: The Communication was brought to the Committee against Paraguay by two peasant families who had been poisoned by high amounts of pesticide and insecticides used by neighbouring industrial farms. Whereas legal regulations existed that prohibited this conduct, no significant steps had been taken by the State to enforce the existing laws. As a result of the poisoning, one family member died, the others were hospitalized. Furthermore, the families suffered a loss of fruit trees, the death of various farm animals and severe crop damage. The families claimed that the State had failed in its duty to provide protection inasmuch as it has not exercised due diligence.

Protection of the Environment as a Human Right

Questions regarding the role of environmental protection in the context of human rights protection have recently been brought before several human rights mechanisms. Recently, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has had the chance to define the role of environmental protection in its system (see this advisory opinion). It has not only found that there is an autonomous right to a healthy environment, but also stated that any right can be affected by environmental harm (paras. 63, 64). Read the rest of this entry…

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CERD Reaches Historic Decisions in Inter-State Communications

Published on September 6, 2019        Author: 

On 29 August 2019, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concluded its 99th session, in which it reached a historic decision on jurisdiction and admissibility in two of the three inter-State communications submitted under Article 11 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Qatar v Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar v United Arab Emirates. The Committee decided that it has jurisdiction in the two communications and has also declared them admissible. The Committee’s Chairperson will now appoint an ad hoc Conciliation Commission in the two communications in compliance with Article 12 of the Convention, whose good offices will be made available to the States concerned with a view to an amicable solution of the matter. In the third inter-State communication, Palestine v Israel, the Committee decided to postpone its consideration of the issue of jurisdiction to its 100th session, to be held in November-December 2019.

The Chair of the Committee stressed that ‘the decisions on the inter-State communications were the first such decisions that any human rights treaty body had ever adopted’. The tone is markedly different from that adopted at the conclusion of its previous 98th session on 10 May 2019:

The Committee had examined three interstate communications submitted under Article 11 of the Convention: one by Qatar against Saudi Arabia; one by Qatar against the United Arab Emirates; and another by the State of Palestine against Israel.  While it had held hearings on these communications, the Committee had decided not to take any decisions, due to the legal complexity of the issues broached and a lack of resources.

This somewhat striking statement was quoted in proceedings before the International Court of Justice on 7 June 2019 by the representative for Ukraine: Read the rest of this entry…

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Bending the Knee or Extending the Hand to Industrial Nations? A Comment on the New Draft Treaty on Business and Human Rights

Published on August 23, 2019        Author:  and

On 16th of July, 2019, the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIWG) on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights published a revised draft(RD) for a treaty on business and human rights. It is the second substantial draft of such treaty after the zero draft(ZD) released exactly one year earlier. The new draft contains some big concessions to States and businesses opposing the treaty.

The OEIWG was established in 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council (through resolution 26/9) to develop a legally binding instrument to regulate, “in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises” (Art. 1 Res. 26/9). The OEIWG held its latest session in October 2018. The RD itself was prepared by the Chairman of the OEIWG over the last months. A first point of procedural criticism is thus that despite the inputs in the previous OEIWG’s sessions, there was no transparent process in the stage of drafting. The text was created by the chairman and his team alone. A drafting team consisting of legal experts representing different areas of expertise and different geographical regions would have given the draft more procedural legitimacy. The “power of the pen” should not be underestimated.

On substance, much could be said about the draft. We will focus on three particularly pertinent points: the new scope of the draft treaty; the comprehensive inclusion of human rights abuses in conflict areas; and the issue of corporate liability.

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Romeo Castaño v Belgium and the Duty to Cooperate under the ECHR

Published on August 19, 2019        Author: 

With a judgment of 9 July 2019, in the case of Romeo Castaño v Belgium, the second section of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) held unanimously that Belgium had fallen short of its procedural obligations under article 2 of the Convention for failing to cooperate with the Spanish authorities in securing the surrender of an individual sought with multiple European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) in connection with serious charges of terrorism and murder.

These findings are landmark. While it has been long established that extradition may engage the Convention under the non-refoulement principle, never before had the Court found a breach of the Convention in connection with a State’s decision not to surrender an individual sought by an extradition request or EAW.

But the salience of the judgment is not confined to extradition. In fact, the case touches upon the important issue of the ‘symmetry’ between the ECHR and EU law and brings about an important development in the doctrine of positive obligations under the Convention.

The facts of the case

The applicants in the case are the children of Colonel Ramón Romeo, who was murdered in Bilbao in 1981 by an ETA commando. In 2013, one of the suspects, N.J.E., who found herself in Belgium, was arrested pursuant to two EAWs issued by Spain. Read the rest of this entry…

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More on Public International Law and Infectious Diseases: Foundations of the Obligation to Report Epidemic Outbreaks

Published on August 15, 2019        Author: 

In his recent post on the 2018-2019 Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Villarreal inter alia mentions the connection between the International Health Regulations (IHR) and international human rights law, arguing that states’ obligations under the IHR are to be read in conjunction with those under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Obviously, the right to health enshrined therein is of utmost relevance.

While that point of view deserves full support, a further link could be traced between international human rights law and “international law of infectious diseases” – the obligation of states to report outbreaks of infectious diseases, lying at the very heart of international efforts to cope with pandemics.

This post intends to demonstrate that the reporting obligation for infectious disease outbreaks can be inferred from general legal sources such as the duty of state co-operation and the human right to health as well as from the IHR – a specific regime. The below analysis purports to show how and why this could and should be done.

Disease outbreaks and the duty to co-operate

Although the mentioned Ebola outbreak was originally reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Government of the DRC, states may well be disincentivised to notify outbreaks of contagion, especially on crucial early stages. Hence the need for incentives for honesty in this regard, not excluding legal ones.

The IHR (Art. 6) establish the reporting duty, i.e. the obligation of states to assess events occurring within their territories using a special decision-making instrument attached to the IHR and timely notify the WHO of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern (the legal regime for declaring a PHEIC has been discussed in the mentioned post).

The duty (sometimes referred to as the principle) of state co-operation under general international law and the specific obligation of reporting epidemic outbreaks share an obvious fundamental similarity: both pursue the same objective – addressing issues that transcend national borders and are beyond sovereign control. Although individual states are responsible for preserving public health in their territories, their efforts may be rendered meaningless without international co-operation (J. Tobin, The Right to Health in International Law (2012), p. 325). In the WHO’s words, “health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational threats” (UNSG, Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health (2010)).

This finding, however, considerably loses in value due to the legal nature of the duty to co-operate. On the one hand, it is enshrined in the United Nations Charter (Arts.1(3), 2, 55, 56), as well as the UNGA’s 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States and has allegedly become a part of customary international law (R. Wolfrum, International Law of Cooperation (2010), para. 13). On the other hand, under the UNC, the principle of state co-operation is said to reflect one of the UN objectives rather than constitute a binding obligation (R. Wolfrum, International Law of Cooperation (2010), para. 16). The mentioned UNGA Resolution adds little clarity.

The duty to co-operate put into context

So, should it be founded upon the duty to co-operate, the obligation to report epidemic outbreaks will end up being no more enforceable than the latter. Still, there is a chance of enhancing the enforceability by putting the duty of co-operation into a specific context. Read the rest of this entry…

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Modern Slavery in the Global Food Market: A Litmus Test for the Proposed Business and Human Rights Treaty

Published on August 12, 2019        Author: 

A recent initiative to adopt the UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights (BHRT) is an attempt to correct the imbalance between rights and obligations of corporations in the field of human rights. While companies regularly invoke human rights to defend their interests, they lack corresponding obligations to respect and uphold such rights throughout their business operations. The examples of reported labour rights abuses in the Thai food industry supplying international and European markets test the capacity of the recent Draft BHRT to end impunity for human rights violations in global value chains.

Pineapple, Chicken, and Modern Slavery: Brought to You by Your Supermarket

In 2013, a Finnish NGO Finnwatch revealed serious human violations in the operations of Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a pineapple processing company in Thailand. Natural Fruit supplied pineapple concentrate to Refresco — the Netherlands-based company with notable cus­tomers in Europe including some of the biggest supermarkets. The Finnwatch report alleged that the factory employed many undocumented workers, including children younger than the legal minimum age in Thailand, that the workers were paid less than the minimum wage prescribed by Thai laws, were forced to work overtime, had their passports and work permits confiscated, and were subject to discrimination, violence, and dangerous working conditions.

In 2016, 14 migrant workers from Myanmar filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) against Thammakaset Co. Ltd., a Thai-registered chicken farm, which directly supplied one of the country’s top exporters of chicken. The workers complained of the various forms of ‘labor abuse’ including forced labour and the restriction of their freedom of movement by confiscating their passports and allowing them to leave the premises for only two hours per week and under supervision. (NHRC Examination Report no. 114/B.E. 2559, 31 August 2016, on file with the author). Read the rest of this entry…

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Inviolability and the Protest at the Bahraini Embassy

Published on August 9, 2019        Author: 

This week Channel 4 News broadcast a remarkable story about a dissident who climbed onto the roof of the Bahraini Embassy in London. The man, Moosa Mohammed, was part of a larger group protesting planned executions in Bahrain, executions which have been condemned by human rights organisations. The protest and underlying cause are rightly at the centre of the story, and the broadcast captures the confusion and drama of the night in question. Mr Mohammed is accosted on the roof by embassy staff, appears to be beaten by a man with a stick, and, in his interview with Channel 4 News, asserts that the embassy staff threatened to throw him off the roof. But the broadcast is also remarkable for it shows, on cell phone footage, the Metropolitan Police breaking open the embassy doors and entering the premises.

To say it is rare to see the police of a receiving state breaking open the doors of a foreign embassy is an understatement. As the broadcast highlights, the inviolability of diplomatic premises is established in international law. In this post, I will discuss the legality under international law of the UK’s actions. For the purposes of the legal analysis I will assume both that there was, on an objective level, a threat to the life/bodily integrity of Mr Mohammed and that the police were acting on the back of their perception of that threat. This factual position is disputed by Bahrain. First, I set out the case that the UK’s actions were unlawful on the basis of the unconditional rule in Article 22(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Second, I suggest that the better view is that the UK’s conduct was lawful, and discuss two routes to that conclusion. Third, I discuss the Bahraini Embassy’s statement.

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Look before you leap: the 2019 extradition bill amendments in light of Hong Kong’s international human rights obligations

Published on July 25, 2019        Author: 

On the first day of July, Hong Kong celebrates Establishment Day, which commemorates the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. Establishment Day for Hongkongers is customarily accompanied by political protests. The widely reported 2019 protests are the direct result of a proposed amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (‘FOO’). The proposed amendment, if passed, would open up the possibility of extradition to mainland China.  Although the proposed amendment was declared “dead” by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, there is real possibility that, at one point or another, the bill will be reincarnated since under Hong Kong law a bill can be suspended or withdrawn and it is not clear that the declaration declaring it dead does either of these. As a result, people have kept pouring into the streets calling for Carrie Lam to step down, making the issue of continuing relevance.

One major point of contention of the proposal concerns the protection of human rights of those subject to transfer to China. NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch point out China’s deplorable human rights protection. While the PRC’s poor human rights track record has been documented extensively, in this contribution I wish to clarify how the amendment bill could result in a situation in which Hong Kong incurs responsibility under international human rights law – in particular article 7 ICCPR – when extraditing persons to the PRC. I do so by first discussing the proposed amendments to the FOO. Second, by explaining the international human rights standards that govern extradition and by which Hong Kong is bound (mainly the torture prohibition), I show how the proposal lacks the safeguards necessary to ensure adequate protection against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

Proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance

The government’s justification for tabling the FOO amendment proposal lies in a brutal 2018 murder case in which a Hong Kong man killed his girlfriend while vacationing in Taiwan and fled back to Hong Kong. The Taiwanese authorities, quick to connect the dots, issued an extradition request to Hong Kong, but received no reply. The absence of action on the part Hong Kong can be explained by two alleged loopholes in the FOO: Read the rest of this entry…

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