Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

Embedding Human Rights in Internet Governance

In Resolution 56/183 (2001), the UN General Assembly welcomed the creation of an inter-governmental World Summit on the Information Society (‘WSIS’) to address the digital revolution and the increasing digital divide between the global North and South. During the Summit’s two phases (Geneva, 2003 and Tunis, 2005) a common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-orientated Information Societyemerged. A key objective was therefore to harness the power of information and communications technology (ICT) to secure the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

A decade on, and against the backdrop of the recent transition from the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes is underway. Delegations met last week for the Second Preparatory Meeting of the UN General Assembly’s Overall Review of the Implementation of the Outcomes of the WSIS (‘WSIS+10 Review’). The aim of this meeting was to engage member States and other stakeholders to reach a consensus on critical issues, such as the goals of Internet governance, the relationship between WSIS and development and how to address human rights related to ICT. Oral statements and written submissions served as the basis for developing the current Zero Draft into a Second Draft. The WSIS+10 Review will culminate in a High-Level Meeting on 15-16 December, at which an Outcome Document will be adopted.

Treatment of human rights in the Zero Draft is inadequate. A sub-section on human rights is included within Internet governance and there are other brief references scattered throughout the Draft. However, human rights are not presented as a foundational principle of Internet governance, but are rather narrowly confined to issues of freedom of expression and the right to privacy. In this post and in our response to the Zero Draft as part of an ESRC Funded Large Grant on Human Rights and Information Technology in an Era of Big Data, we argue ]for a more systematic approach to human rights in this process, in order to reflect the full scope of the human rights issues raised by the use of ICT and big data.

Opportunities and Challenges Presented by the Use of ICT and Big Data

Technology has the potential to produce an impact on all aspects of society. The use of ICT is becoming essential to the conduct of government operations, to business, and to individuals’ day-to-day lives. ICT and human rights have become inextricably intertwined, and this is set to continue in line with progress towards the Information Society. This interconnectivity means that ICT has concrete human rights implications, which can be both positive and negative. Significantly, however, the full extent of ICT’s human rights implications are not yet known.

The transformative potential of ICT and big data for the protection and promotion of human rights is becoming increasingly apparent. For example, digital platforms have facilitated local and global dialogue between human rights defenders, minorities and other democratic voices, giving rise to the phrase ‘liberation technology’. Analytics and the use of big data can assist in the identification of otherwise invisible forms of vulnerability and discrimination. This information can be utilised to target interventions and to facilitate efficient resource allocation and can therefore be employed to facilitate the achievement of the SDGs. For example, in relation to ‘good health and well-being’ (Goal 3), the adoption of e-health and m-health (where health services are delivered electronically or via mobile devices) can lead to cost-effective access to health care. Equally, the analysis of data drawn from a significant number of electronic health records (big data-based analytics) can be used to identify appropriate treatments and facilitate early intervention, reducing future health care costs. Technological assistance in the identification of vulnerability and discrimination also facilitates ‘reduced inequalities’ (Goal 10), and can assist in tackling the ‘digital divide’.

However, the inappropriate use of ICT and big data has the potential to interfere with the enjoyment of human rights and thereby undermine the opportunities for realising human rights and attaining the SDGs. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

Somalia Ratifies Convention on the Rights of the Child

Published on November 2, 2015        Author: 

A standard trope when teaching multilateral human rights treaties has been to point to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as having achieved near-universal ratification, with only the United States and Somalia not having ratified it (at least among those entities generally recognized to be states under international law). Well, that trope now has to come to an end – on 1 October Somalia officially deposited its instrument of ratification with the UN Secretary-General, having completed domestic ratification processes earlier in the year. That leaves the US as the only state in the world not to have joined this treaty, a somewhat more unenviable position than before, one could say.

Unfortunately, upon ratification Somalia also made the following reservation: “The Federal Republic of Somalia does not consider itself bound by Articles 14, 20, 21 of the above stated Convention and any other provisions of the Convention contrary to the General Principles of Islamic Sharia.” The three enumerated articles deal with the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the protection of children deprived of their family environment, but the reservation extends to the Convention as a whole. Human rights bodies generally regard Sharia reservations to be incompatible with the object and purpose of human rights treaties (as do a number of other states parties), while in its work on reservations to treaties the International Law Commission objected to such reservations on the grounds of their impermissible generality and vagueness (see guideline and commentary; see more the EJIL symposium on the ILC’s guide to practice on reservations).

In any event, the CRC is now just one step removed from becoming the only treaty to achieve universal ratification in modern times, other than the 1949 Geneva Conventions – but bearing in mind the internal politics in the US Senate and the 2/3 majority required there, that last ratification probably won’t come anytime soon.

Print Friendly

Governing the Future with Sustainable Development Goals: Hopes and Challenges

Published on October 16, 2015        Author: 

The summit of world leaders that took place at the UN General Assembly in New York at the end of September marked an unusually harmonious moment in international politics. In the summit 193 countries acted in concert to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are set to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the beginning of 2016.

The new development agenda builds on the MDGs, and its Preamble declares that the SDGs are to complete what the MDGs failed to do. The final MDG report, which was released a week before the summit, shows that while progress has occurred in many spheres of global development, there have also been plenty of uneven achievements and shortfalls. These range from the world’s poorest remaining very unevenly distributed across regions and countries, to targets in improving maternal health not being fully met.

The SDGs reach far beyond MDGs in terms of their ambition, and they come with enormous potential. For example, instead of aiming to reduce extreme poverty rates the SDGs have set the bar higher with the aspirational target of eradicating extreme poverty everywhere. The new development agenda is also of unprecedented scope. While the MDGs comprised of 8 goals and 18 targets, the SDGs have 17 goals and there has been a nearly ten-fold increase in the targets to 169. The new agenda also recognises that some important development challenges, such as gender equality, are crosscutting issues that need to be taken into consideration in the implementation of all goals.

There are also positive developments in relation to human rights. Historically the relationship between MDGs and human rights has been tenuous, and the link between the two has been mostly implicit and under-developed. The MDGs have been criticised from a human rights perspective – among other thingsfor their non-participatory design process, for providing a ‘fig leaf of legitimacy’ to authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, for enshrining goals that are less ambitious than those present in the human rights paradigm, and even for undermining international human rights law standards. The new agenda is more explicitly tied to international human rights instruments. The agenda states that the SDGs are grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties, and that they seek ‘to realize the human rights of all’ (Preamble, Paragraph 10). In other words, human rights can be understood as both the foundation and the aim of SDGs. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

The Growing Importance of Data Protection in Public International Law

Globalization and borderless electronic communication has brought huge benefits to individuals. At the same time, the increased exploitation of personal data by the private sector and reported intelligence gathering of personal data via the Internet have caused widespread international concern. The recent appointment by the UN Human Rights Council of a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy in the summer of 2015, and the adoption on 18 December 2013 by the UN General Assembly of a resolution on “the right to privacy in the digital age”, demonstrate the growing international interest in data protection rights.

There is a growing need for legal rules protecting the processing of personally-identifiable data, known as data protection, to be anchored more firmly in public international law. The increasing number of regulatory conflicts caused by differing national and regional conceptions of data protection, as illustrated by the judgment of 6 October 2015 of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Maximillian Schrems, should be a wake-up call to the international community in this regard.

Indeed, data protection at the international level remains fragmented and weak, creating risks for individuals and problems for international organizations (such as UN entities and international humanitarian organizations), many of which process large amounts of personal data. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

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

Published on October 5, 2015        Author: 

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

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

Published on September 29, 2015        Author: 

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

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

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

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

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

Print Friendly

Human Rights Treaties and Foreign Surveillance

Published on September 28, 2015        Author: 

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

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

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

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

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

Print Friendly

Human Rights and the Targeting by Drone

Published on September 18, 2015        Author: 

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

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

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

Print Friendly

On Preventive Killing

Published on September 17, 2015        Author: 

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

George W. Bush, 17 September 2002.

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

Moving Beyond the Asylum Muddle

Published on September 14, 2015        Author: 

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

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

What now?

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

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly