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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

More on the UN and Surveillance and Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on April 17, 2014        Author: 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is now conducting a consultation for the purpose of preparing the High Commissioner’s report pursuant to the UN General Assembly’s resolution on privacy in the digital age. Some of the major privacy/human rights NGOs have now made their submissions public: here is the paper submitted jointly by Privacy International, Access, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Article 19, Association for Progressive Communications, Human Rights Watch, and the World Wide Web Foundation; and here is the submission by the Center for Democracy and Technology. The NGOs argue, inter alia, that Article 17 ICCPR applies to (extraterritorial) surveillance activities and that the bulk collection of communications data is inherently disproportionate.

UPDATE: All of the submissions are now available on the OHCHR website.

Quoting verbatim from the GA’s resolution, the Human Rights Council has also decided to convene a panel on the right to privacy in the digital age at its 27th session, to be held in September. The multi-stakeholder panel is to discuss ‘the promotion and protection of the right to privacy in the digital age in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or the interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data, including on a mass scale, also with a view to identifying challenges and best practices, taking into account the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 68/167.’

Readers may also recall that a few months ago I did a series of posts on human rights and foreign surveillance. I’ve since written up a more developed and expanded article based on that series, which takes into account developments as of March 2014, including the Koh memos and the concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on the US fourth periodic report. The article will be published in the Harvard International Law Journal, and the draft is now available on SSRN. Comments are as always welcome; the abstract is below the fold.

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The ILC’s Clever Compromise on the Validity of Reservations to Treaties: A Rejoinder to Marko Milanovic and Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos

Published on April 11, 2014        Author: 

In ‘The ILC’s Clever Compromise on the Validity of Reservations to Treaties’, Marko Milanovic and Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos say the ILC Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties strikes a clever compromise by holding on to a general regime on reservations to treaties and, at the same time, making human rights lawyers happy.  They also characterise the ILC Guide as a ‘Vienna Plus’ regime – indicating that the ILC Guidelines go beyond the rules of the VCTL and, in many respects, adapt the VCTL to present day conditions.

We agree that the new regime proposed is indeed a ‘Vienna-plus regime’. We also agree that the ILC special rapporteur on reservations, Alain Pellet, changed his views on objections to reservations within the context of international human rights law between when the study started in 1993 (Report of the ILC on the work of its forty-fifth session, para. 430) and ended in 2011 (Report of the ILC, sixty-third session). We, however, wish to highlight one point of reminder and one point of query with regard to the clever compromise.

First, the solution offered by the ILC report suggesting that an objective validity test under Article 19 comes prior to the subjective objections of states under Article 20 was originally proposed by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in 1999, pursuant to the Sub-Commission decision 1998/113 entitled “Reservations to human rights treaties”. Second, the ILC report goes further than current UN human rights law practice when it comes to the assessments of the human rights treaty bodies with regard to the invalidity of reservations. It takes a more radical step than current practice.

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The Legal Framework of Future Military Operations: Inching Towards a More Strategic Approach?

Published on April 8, 2014        Author: 

In July 2013, the House of Commons Defence Committee launched an inquiry into the legal framework governing future operations of the British armed forces as part of its preparations for the next Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Committee has now published its findings in a report entitled ‘UK Armed Forces Personnel and the Legal Framework for Future Operations’.

The very fact that the Defence Committee saw the need to launch an inquiry into the legal framework governing military operations is remarkable. It demonstrates just how much legal considerations are shaping the current strategic and tactical landscape. It also lays bare a substantial degree of unease about the role that rules of law and legal processes play in an area as politically sensitive as the deployment of the armed forces.

Bearing in mind the complexity, contested nature and sheer scope of the topic, those who followed the inquiry closely may be forgiven for awaiting the publication of the Committee’s report with a certain sense of trepidation. How would the Committee deal with the extraordinarily broad remit of the inquiry? And what might lie at the bottom of Pandora’s box? These concerns turned out to be misplaced. The Committee must be commended for producing a balanced and informed report, no doubt assisted by the breadth of the expert evidence available to it. Above all, it is refreshing to see that the Committee succeeded in avoiding some of the untested assumptions and high drama which have been evident in the debate about the legal regulation of the armed forces.

Two main themes emerge from the report. The first is that the legal framework governing military operations is complex. This point may not come as a revelation to legal experts working in the field, yet acknowledging this complexity has very significant policy implications. As I have suggested in greater detail elsewhere (‘Deployed Operations and the ECHR’), legal complexity is here to stay and cannot be resolved for good. If all that we can achieve is a better balance of the competing considerations, we must focus our efforts on reducing the adverse effects of legal uncertainty on the armed forces, rather than chasing unrealistic attempts to simplify the law. The Committee’s recommendation to enhance the armed forces’ understanding of the law by providing them with better legal training, manuals and advice would go some way towards this end.

The second theme which emerges from the report is a strong sense that the Government must act more proactively and look at the legal framework for future military operations from a more strategic angle. Read the rest of this entry…

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Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations on the United States

Published on March 27, 2014        Author: 

Our friends at Just Security have just published an advance unedited version of the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the United States, as adopted yesterday by the Committee. The observations address many issues, but some of the highlights involve the extraterritorial application of the ICCPR, the use of drones, and NSA surveillance. For example, in para. 4:

The Committee regrets that the State party continues to maintain its position that the Covenant does not apply with respect to individuals under its jurisdiction but outside its territory, despite the contrary interpretation of article 2(1) supported by the Committee’s established jurisprudence, the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice and state practice. [the Committee thus recommends to the US to:]  Interpret the Covenant in good faith, in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to its terms in their context, including subsequent practice, and in the light of its object and purpose and review its legal position so as to acknowledge the extraterritorial application of the Covenant under certain circumstances, as outlined inter alia in the Committee’s general comment No. 31 (2004) on the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on States parties to the Covenant;

With regard to the CIA ‘enhanced interrogation’ program under the previous US administration, the Committee was especially concerned about the impunity of the perpetrators of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and recommended the investigation and prosecution especially of ‘persons in command positions,’  and that the ‘responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior should also be established.’ (para. 5)

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The dilution of the family in human rights: Comments on Vallianatos and other ECHR cases on “family life”

Published on March 25, 2014        Author: 

In the decision of Vallianatos and others v. Greece (No. 29381/09 and 32684/09) delivered on 7th November 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) considered that two adult men living separately should benefit from the protection granted to families in the particular case where they maintained a stable homosexual relationship. On this occasion the Court affirmed that, from now on, when a European State legislates as regards the family, it “in its choice of meansmust necessarily take into account developments in society and changes in the perception of social and civil-status issues and relationships, including the fact that there is not just one way or one choice when it comes to leading one’s family or private life” (§ 84). The Court thus ensures that European States adapt their legislation to (its own perception of) the evolution of morals. This decision marks a new stage in the accelerated dissolution of the legal definition of the family which from a biological and institutional reality has become a concept which is flexible to the point of inconsistency.

The family constituted by marriage and/or children

The European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) protects “private and family life” in the same provision (Article 8), along with the home and correspondence. However, the Court has progressively distinguished the protection of private life from that of family life. Private life is a broad concept which does not lend itself to an exhaustive definition. The essential goal of the protection afforded by it is to protect the individual from the arbitrary interference of the authorities and it may in addition create positive obligations inherent in an effective “respect” for private life (Olsson v. Sweden, No. 10465/83, 24.03.1988). As for the protection of family life, it focuses primarily on the relationship between children and their parents. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine, Russia and Crimea in the European Court of Human Rights

Published on March 19, 2014        Author: 

Much has been written recently about the legal ramifications of events in Ukraine, but there was a new development last week when the European Court of Human Rights granted interim measures in an inter-state case brought by Ukraine against Russia. The case was lodged on 13 March, and on the same day the Strasbourg Court issued an interim measure (under rule 39) indicating that the Russian government should ‘refrain from measures which might threaten the life and health of the civilian population on the territory of Ukraine’.

The decision was taken by the President of the Third Section of the Court, the Andorran judge, Josep Casadevall. Judge Casadevall went further in calling on both Ukraine and Russia to refrain from taking any measures, ‘in particular military actions’, which might breach the rights of civilians under the European Convention on Human Rights, including putting their life and health at risk, and calling on the states to comply with Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention. Both states are obliged to inform the Court as soon as possible of the measures they have taken in response.

In spite of the Convention preamble’s exhortation to state parties to ensure its collective enforcement, the inter-state case procedure in Strasbourg remains a rarity. It may come as little surprise that Russia has been the respondent in the three most recent such cases, each of which has been brought by Georgia. Georgia v Russia (I) relates to the arrest and detention of the Georgian immigrant population in Russia in September 2006, following the arrest in Tbilisi of four Russian service personnel on espionage charges. More pertinently to the current events in Ukraine, Georgia v Russia (II) concerns the August 2008 conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in which Russia claims to have been defending the civilian population (Russian citizens who had been granted passports) in both regions against Georgian attacks (there are also at least 2,000 individual applications pending against one or other (or both) states). A third case brought by Georgia, relating to the detention of four Georgian minors in South Ossetia, was withdrawn after they were released in December 2009, following missions to the region by the Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Azemi v. Serbia in the European Court of Human Rights: (Dis)continuity of Serbia’s De Jure Jurisdiction over Kosovo

Published on March 13, 2014        Author: 

Following the 2008 Kosovo Declaration of Independence and the change in public powers in Kosovo, Azemi v. Serbia was the first decision in which the ECtHR examined whether Serbia continued to have jurisdiction in Kosovo. The applicant, Ali Azemi, a national of Kosovo, alleged that Serbia had violated his rights under Article 6 (1) of the Convention by failing to enforce a decision rendered by a court in Kosovo in 2002. The applicant argued that Serbia bore responsibility for the enforcement of the Convention rights throughout its territory, including Kosovo.

On November 5, 2013, the ECtHR found that Serbia could not be held responsible under Article 1 of the Convention for the non-enforcement of a decision of a Kosovo court. The Court had previously sustained the presumption of Serbia’s de jure jurisdiction in Kosovo. However, in the Azemi case in examining the period after the Declaration of Independence it departed from that view by way of establishing the presumption of neutrality with regard to Kosovo.

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Harold Koh’s Legal Opinions on the US Position on the Extraterritorial Application of Human Rights Treaties

Published on March 7, 2014        Author: 

Cross-posted on Just Security.

Earlier today Charlie Savage of The New York Times broke the story that while serving as the Legal Adviser at the US State Department Harold Koh wrote two major opinions on the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties, urging the Obama Administration to abandon the previous categorical position that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can never apply outside a state party’s territory. The first opinion is on the geographical scope of application of the ICCPR, is dated 19 October 2010, and is available here. The second, on the geographic scope of application of the Convention against Torture and its application in situations of armed conflict, is dated 21 January 2013, and is available here. The two opinions, probably obtained by Savage in yet another leak from within the Administration, are a fascinating read. Koh essentially adopts almost all of the critiques levied against the existing US position, which he sees as increasingly untenable, and provides his own (relatively moderate) model of how the two treaties should apply outside a state’s own territory.

Savage also reports that despite Koh’s opinions the Administration has decided not to abandon the previous US position, simply because it fears (or at least a sufficient number of its component parts do) that accepting that human rights treaties apply extraterritorially would make its collective life more difficult, as everything from extraterritorial drone strikes to NSA surveillance could fall within the purview of the ICCPR. We shall soon see if Savage’s reporting is correct – the US is up for periodic review before the Human Rights Committee next week, and this is bound to be one of the first questions asked. As I’ve explained before, the US Fourth Periodic Report and a follow-up communication to the Committee merely registered the US position and the criticism thereof, without reiterating it, thus leaving the door open for change. If Savage’s reporting does prove to be correct and the US now clearly reiterates before the Committee that the ICCPR cannot apply extraterritorially because its Article 2(1) is supposedly crystal clear and unambiguous when it says that ‘[e]ach State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant,’ an important opportunity will have been missed.

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Refining Al-Skeini v UK: The ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearing in Jaloud v Netherlands

Published on March 7, 2014        Author: 

The Grand Chamber at the ECtHR recently heard the case of Jaloud v the Netherlands. The case raises interesting issues concerning both extra-territorial jurisdiction and the obligations States owe to foreign nationals when deployed in foreign military operations. The facts are reasonably straightforward. The applicant’s son drove his car through a checkpoint without stopping in Iraq in 2004. A Dutch lieutenant at the checkpoint opened fire, hitting the applicant’s son who later died of his wounds. No weapons were found within the car. The Dutch forces there investigated the use of force and concluded that the use of force had been justified.

Jurisdiction

To begin with the jurisdictional issues, any hope that the question of extra-territorial jurisdiction had been settled in Al-Skeini v UK was dashed when both the Dutch and the UK, who acted as third party interveners, presented arguments that the applicant’s son was not within Dutch jurisdiction for the purposes of Article 1 ECHR when he was killed.

In principle there are 2 main forms of extra-territorial jurisdiction: spatial jurisdiction, which arises when the State exercises effective control over some foreign territory and personal jurisdiction, which arises where the State exercises authority and control over an individual. In Al-Skeini v UK, the ECtHR held that the UK was obliged to provide Convention-compliant investigations into the deaths of Iraqi civilians which occurred in the context of UK military operations while it occupied Iraq. The ECtHR applied a jurisdiction model somewhere between spatial jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction by holding that jurisdiction arises when a contracting State ‘exercises all or some of the public powers normally to be exercised [by the government of the State]’, (Al-Skeini at [135]) and then exercises authority and control over a person. In these circumstances instantaneous acts of UK soldiers, such as shootings, automatically created a jurisdictional link to the State:

 the United Kingdom […] assumed in Iraq the exercise of some of the public powers normally to be exercised by a sovereign government […] the United Kingdom assumed authority and responsibility for the maintenance of security in South-East Iraq. In these exceptional circumstances, the Court considers that the United Kingdom, through its soldiers engaged in security operations in Basrah during the period in question, exercised authority and control over individuals killed in the course of such security operations, so as to establish a jurisdictional link between the deceased and the United Kingdom’ – (Al-Skeini at [149])

 The key difference between this model and standard personal jurisdiction is that where the State is exercising some public powers, the ECtHR treats the power to kill and the instantaneous act of killing as ‘authority and control’ over the individual (discussion of this here and here). Historically, the ECtHR had ruled that instantaneous acts, such as firing a missile from a plane, did not give rise to authority and control over the airstrike victims (see Bankovic and Ors v Italy and Ors).

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The ILC’s Clever Compromise on the Validity of Reservations to Treaties

This post, adapted from our introduction to the symposium on the International Law Commission’s Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties in the current issue of the EJIL, looks at one specific topic addressed by the ILC – the rules governing the validity of reservations and the consequences of invalidity. This is not only the most controversial and vexing of all of the issues addressed in the Guide, but also the one where the Guide makes it perhaps most important contribution. Here we not only have a meticulous analysis of a technical topic, but nothing short of an existential story of international law as a unified system as opposed to a set of fragmented sub-regimes. How so? When one reads Articles 19-22 VCLT, particularly in light of the ICJ’s Reservations to the Genocide Convention opinion, one cannot avoid the impression that the process of determining whether a reservation was invalid as being contrary to the object and purpose of a treaty was meant to be more or less inter-subjective: each state should determine for itself whether a given reservation was compatible with the treaty’s object and purpose, and if it was not it should make an objection to that effect.

But such an inter-subjective approach looks remarkably unappealing from the perspective of major multilateral normative treaties, particularly in the human rights context. The rights of individuals, so the reasoning among many human rights lawyers went (as exemplified most notably in Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 24), should not depend on the existence of objections, vel non, by third states, especially when reciprocity of state obligations has little place in the human rights context and when for a variety of reasons states routinely fail to object to reservations even when there manifestly are perfectly good reasons to do so. While objections to reservations would be probative, they could not be dispositive. It would indeed primarily be upon courts or treaty bodies to determine whether a reservation is compatible with the object and purpose of the human rights treaty, while the consequence of invalidity would normally not only be the nullity of the reservation, but also its severability, so that the reserving state would remain bound by the human rights treaty without the benefit of its reservation. Human rights protection would thus always be maximized.

Many governments were less than pleased with what they saw as a power-grab by human rights bodies and a usurpation of their sovereign prerogatives. The ILC, being the bastion of international law orthodoxy, was no more pleased, nor was Alain Pellet as its Special Rapporteur. How could international law survive as a coherent, unified system if more of its branches followed the human rights example and asserted that because they were special they needed special rules, rather than the outdated Vienna framework. If that was true for human rights, why would it not be true for trade, the environment, or whatever other topic people became strongly devoted to. Fragmentation beckoned, and it needed to be resisted.

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