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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

Leap Ahead or More of the Same? The European Commission’s Proposed Revisions to the Dublin System

Published on May 20, 2016        Author: 

On 4 May, 2016, the European Commission published a series of proposals in the field of Home Affairs, including proposed revisions to the contentious Dublin Regulation. This package of proposals signals the start of a process of revising the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the recast instruments which came into force over the last two years. The need for such an upgrade is evidenced by the EU Member States’ disappointing response to the so-called ‘migration crisis’, but is also necessitated by fundamental flaws in the legal output stemming from the political compromise that led to the second version of the CEAS. Analysis of the EC’s proposed revisions reveal, however, that they would do little to remedy these flaws and are unlikely to gain support, not least due to a lack of solidarity among Member States.

Before evaluating the proposal, it ought to be noted that, of all the regional developments in the field of forced migration, the EU has by far the greatest law making competence (when compared to other regional bodies), as well as some of the more advanced instruments. The principles of protection that guide a regional response are incorporated in a series of binding instruments covering both substantive and procedural issues. This builds on the right to asylum explicitly guaranteed in Article 18 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The last 12 months have seen significant pressure put on both European solidarity and the right to asylum from the number of applications received and from the response of both the EU (as an institution) and its individual Member States.

The Dublin System is possibly one of the most widely criticised elements of the CEAS—it is also widely misunderstood by the public, misrepresented by the media and misapplied by States. Furthermore, it is a flawed instrument that places excessive burdens on the Member States at Europe’s periphery, ignores the asylum seekers’ desires (and the linked agency to move farther), and (wrongly) assumes equal levels of protection across the various EU Member States. The system’s application has restrictions applied from its own founding legislation and through decisions of both the Strasbourg and Luxembourg Courts. An official evaluation of the Dublin system (to which the Commission Proposal refers) found that the underlying aim of reducing secondary movements has clearly failed, with 24% of applicants in 2014 having already sought asylum elsewhere (this figure does not even include people who whilst having been in other countries were not formally in the asylum system). Moreover, the regulation has limited impact on the distribution of applicants within the EU, given that net transfers in Dublin procedures are very few. The recent proposal by the EC aims to address some of these weaknesses but, in my view, fails to do so effectively.

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Snippets on the UK and the ECHR

Published on May 18, 2016        Author: 

Some brief notices on the UK, the ECHR, the planned repeal of the UK’s Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights that our non-UK readers in particular might find of interest: almost all is quiet on the Western front, but not quite. From today’s Queen’s Speech in Parliament we could only learn that the Government still plans to scrap the HRA and replace with the British Bill of Rights, but we still have no inkling about what exactly that would entail and when. Basically the whole matter is on hold at least while Britain ponders Brexit, and even then it is likely that the new Bill (after extensive consultations) will not make radical changes to the existing HRA framework, other than for appearances’ sake.

Cambridge’s Mark Elliott has more, as does Rightsinfo. Also at Rightsinfo, Adam Wagner and Rebecca Hacker have an excellent post with a bit of colourful statistics showing just how gentle Strasbourg has been to the UK in recent years – which demonstrates not only how much damage the UK has inflicted on the ECHR system over very little real-world intrusion in its affairs, i.e. mostly for petty domestic politics, but perhaps also how (regrettably? consciously?) responsive Strasbourg can be to some state-administered spanking.

Finally, readers might be interested in a new website/blog launched by the estimable Conor Gearty of the LSE, who has a forthcoming book with OUP on the relationship between Britain and Strasbourg, On Fantasy Island. Conor will blog with excerpts from the book, working his way through its main themes: the fantasies, the facts, and the future.

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UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal Rules that Non-UK Residents Have No Right to Privacy under the ECHR

Published on May 18, 2016        Author: 

In another major development on the surveillance/privacy front, on Tuesday the UK specialized surveillance court, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, ruled that persons not present within the United Kingdom are not within the jurisdiction of the UK in the sense of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and accordingly do not have any of the rights under that Convention (para. 49 et seq). In other words, a person in say France or the United States subjected to surveillance by GCHQ does not have an ECHR right to privacy vis-a-vis the UK, which accordingly has no Convention claim to answer. This is I think the first time that a British court has expressly dealt with extraterritoriality in the surveillance context. The IPT’s reasoning essentially rests on a Bankovic analogy – if you are in say Serbia and the UK drops a bomb on you, the Strasbourg Court has said that you don’t have the right to life. How could you then have the right to privacy if all the UK did was to simply read your email while you were in Serbia?

I have extensively argued elsewhere why that analogy is wrong (as is Bankovic itself), so I won’t belabour that point further (see here and here). It was entirely predictable that the IPT would adopt this restrictive position, which is perfectly plausible under Strasbourg case law (even if fundamentally mistaken). The IPT was correct in ruling, however, that distinctions as to the Convention’s applicability can’t really be made on the basis of whether the person is present is some other Council of Europe state, or is outside the ECHR’s espace juridique altogether. Anyway, the issue of the Convention’s extraterritorial applicability to mass electronic surveillance abroad is one for Strasbourg to decide and (hopefully) fix, and it will have the opportunity to do so in these cases and others. What the Court will do is of course anyone’s guess, because its decision will inevitable have ripple effects on other scenarios, such as extraterritorial uses of lethal force, e.g. drone strikes.

I have also argued, however, that there is particular scenario in which the applicability of the Convention becomes more attractive (or less dangerous as a matter of policy) – when the surveillance actually takes place within the surveilling state’s territory, even if the affected individual is outside it. Imagine, for example, if the UK police searched my flat in Nottingham while I was visiting family in Serbia – surely I would have Article 8 rights, even though I would not be on UK territory when the search took place. Why then should I not have these rights if an email I send while I am in Serbia is routed through my university server in Nottingham and intercepted by GCHQ there? In both cases the intrusion into privacy happens on the UK’s territory, even if I am outside it. In fact, in its judgment the IPT briefly addresses this scenario, if all too briefly and less than convincingly, although I’m not sure that the point was extensively argued.

In any case, the main paragraphs on the jurisdiction issue are below the fold. The judgment also deals with the very important question of standing/victim status, finding that all but six of the 600+ claimants lacked locus standi even under a very low threshold of showing that they are ‘potentially at risk’ from surveillance measures (applying the European Court’s recent Zakharov judgment, para. 171).

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Silencing the Canary: the lawfulness of the U.K. Investigatory Powers Bill’s secrecy provisions under the ECHR

Published on May 17, 2016        Author: 

Following the Snowden revelations in 2013 concerning the complicity of the tech industry in widespread electronic government surveillance in the U.S., tech companies have individually and collectively become increasingly active as advocates of privacy and free speech rights, culminating in legal challenges to government electronic surveillance.

Since the dropping by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) of its much publicised writ against Apple, which sought to compel Apple to hack the security key code system of the Apple iPhone 5, the battle between tech companies and the DOJ over privacy and encryption in the U.S. has taken another turn.  In April, Microsoft filed a suit in the District Court of Seattle against the DOJ challenging the ‘secrecy order’ provisions (a range of anti-tipping off and gagging powers) under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

With the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), which contains similar secrecy requirements, currently being debated before the U.K. Parliament, the U.S. case provides fair warning of possible human rights challenges tech companies may bring against the U.K. government. This post will consider the implications of the Bill’s secrecy provisions in light of the rights of tech companies under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Microsoft – DOJ claim                                                 

In short, the ECPA allows a U.S. government agency to apply to the Court for a warrant requiring Microsoft, or any other internet company, to hand over their customers’ private data. In addition, an order can be made by the court preventing the company from publicising the fact that they have been required to disclose the data. Read the rest of this entry…

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Securing the Right to Life: A cornerstone of the human rights system

Published on May 11, 2016        Author: 

The right to life has been described as the ‘supreme’ or ‘foundational’ right. Efforts to ensure other rights can be of little consequence if the right to life is not protected.

In the broadest sense, the prohibition of the use of force except under narrowly defined circumstances, both in armed conflict and interpersonally, reflects a pre-occupation with the protection of this core human value. The criminal justice and other mechanisms of investigation are also aimed at ensuring the protection of life. The linkage of the term ‘right to life’ to a specific position in the debate about abortion in the North American context hardly does justice to the terrain covered by this concept.

The duty to respect and protect the right to life manifests itself on numerous terrains: The excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies or others (such as hit squads whose actions can be attributed to the state); the death penalty; the responsibility of states for the lives of those in their custody (for example in prisons); and the failure to exercise due diligence to protect members of the public from violence by other individuals or groups. The right to life also continues to apply during armed conflict. A violation of the right to life is irreversible. It is for this reason that it is important to underline that the protection of the right to life has two components: the prohibition of arbitrary deprivations of life, and accountability where they occur. A lack of accountability in itself constitutes a violation of this right.

The right to life is a well-established and developed part of international law, in treaties, custom, and general principles, and, in its core elements, in the rules of jus cogens. Its primacy and the central features of the prohibition on arbitrary deprivations of life are not contested. Nonetheless, in practice, life remains cheap in many parts of the world. This is true in the many armed conflicts that are raging, but also outside such conflicts, where police and others authorised or tolerated by states often use excessive force, or there is a failure to investigate homicides.

The great importance attached to this right is reflected in a flurry of recent developments in this field, aimed at setting out the norms more clearly or ensuring their better realisation. We have been pleased to be able to contribute to several of them: Read the rest of this entry…

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New Drone Report by UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights

Published on May 10, 2016        Author: 

Following up on yesterday’s post on the Eye in the Sky, today the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights published an important new report on the UK’s resort to drone strikes. Most interestingly, the report contains a number of clarifications of the UK’s policy on drone strikes, on the basis of the evidence obtained by the Committee, especially in situations outside active armed conflict. One of the report’s conclusions is that the UK does, in fact, reserve the right to use drones outside armed conflict, and that such strikes would be governed by human rights law rather than the law of war, but that in limited circumstances such strikes could be lawful. The report also calls on the UK Government to respond with further clarifications. As a general matter the report is written clearly and the legal analysis is reasonably nuanced and rigorous.

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Eye in the Sky

Published on May 9, 2016        Author: 

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the new movie starring Helen Mirren and the late great Alan Rickman, Eye in the Sky. I was simply floored. Not only is Eye in the Sky an example of film-making at its best, with intelligent pacing and stellar acting throughout, it is also one of the most sophisticated treatments that I have seen of the legal, policy and moral dilemmas that people who make targeting decisions are faced with. It even has words like necessity and proportionality in it, and generally used correctly at that! I could totally envisage a vigorous classroom discussion of the various issues raised after every ten minutes of the movie. I just couldn’t recommend it more for anyone even remotely interested in the legal and moral aspects of targeted killings by drones.  *MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW*

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Thou shalt not Insult the (Foreign) Head of State?

Published on April 28, 2016        Author: 

Earlier this month, a German prosecutor’s office confirmed that it was investigating TV comedian, Jan Böhmermann, for having read on his TV show, Neo Magazin Royal, a poem targeting the Turkish President Erdogan (see here or here). The poem, entitled “Schmähkritik” (“Defamatory”), accused Mr Erdogan of deliberately suppressing minorities such as Kurds and Christians. As the comedian himself admitted, the language used was deliberately offensive- it contained sexually explicit insults against the Turkish president (and was read in front of the Turkish flag and a portrait of Mr. Erdogan).

The Böhmermann Case

The TV show stirred fierce criticism from the Turkish capital of Ankara. The Turkish Embassy in Berlin lodged a formal request with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the prosecution of Mr Böhmermann. The prosecution could take place under Article 103 of the German Criminal Code entitled “Defamation of organs and representatives of foreign states”. This provision reads as follows:

 (1) Whosoever insults a foreign head of state, or, with respect to his position, a member of a foreign government who is in Germany in his official capacity, or a head of a foreign diplomatic mission who is accredited in the Federal territory shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, in case of a slanderous insult to imprisonment from three months to five years.

Pursuant to Article 104a of the German Criminal Code, prosecution of this offence would require the following conditions to be met: the Federal Republic of Germany maintains diplomatic relations with the other state; reciprocity is guaranteed and was guaranteed at the time of the offence; a request to prosecute by the foreign government exists; and the Federal Government authorises the prosecution.

The first three conditions are clearly present in the Böhmermann case – Germany maintains diplomatic relations with Turkey; the combination of Article 125 (Insult) and Article 340 (Offences against the Head of a Foreign State) of the Penal Code of Turkey would allow for the criminal prosecution of persons who insult the German head of state in Turkey; and Turkey has requested the prosecution.

Originally, securing authorisation for the prosecution from the German Federal Government was less than certain. In some previous cases involving the alleged insult of Mr. Erdogan (the NDR Case), authorisation had been denied. In the current case however, the Government, after some initial hesitation, decided to grant it. Thus, the case will go forward alongside a civil lawsuit for defamation filed by Mr. Erdogan himself.

While interesting in itself, the case gives rise to a more general question relating to the level of protection provided to heads of state under current international law. Should heads of state, as is the situation with other public officials, be expected to withstand even harsh political criticism, thus being effectively subject to a lower level of protection than common citizens? Or on the contrary, should heads of state be granted a higher level of protection in so far as they represent the state and could therefore be considered one of its symbols? Read the rest of this entry…

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The Russian Constitutional Court and its Actual Control over the ECtHR Judgement in Anchugov and Gladkov

Published on April 26, 2016        Author: 

The amendment to the law on the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation which came into force on 14 December 2015 gave the Constitutional Court the power to declare “impossible to implement” judgements of a human rights body on the ground that its interpretation of the international treaty provisions at the basis of the judgement is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. As observed by Philip Leach and Alice Donald, even if the main objective of the law was to target judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), its scope is wider and covers decisions from any human rights body, including the UN Human Rights Committee. No equivalent powers exist under the national jurisdiction of any other Council of Europe (CoE) member state.

Russia’s Constitutional Court has recently ruled that it was “impossible to implement” the final judgement of the ECtHR delivered on 4 July 2013 in the case of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia. In this case, the ECtHR held that Russia’s blanket ban on convicted prisoners’ voting rights was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The applicants brought the case because, according to Article 32(3) of the Russian Constitution, they were ineligible to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections given their status as convicted prisoners.

This post discusses and criticises the ‘freshly exercised’ competence of the Russian Constitutional Court, in particular, from the standpoint of public international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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Killing by Omission

Published on April 20, 2016        Author: 

On Monday, the Forensic Architecture team at Goldsmith College, London, published Death by Rescue. The report exposes a rather complex set of facts, but the basic argument is as simple as it is alarming.

Operation Triton, facilitated by Europe’s border security agency, Frontex, began on 1 November 2014 and is mandated to enforce Italy’s maritime border. Triton replaced an earlier and much wider Italian Navy operation, Mare Nostrum, which began in October 2013 and was mandated to save migrant lives beyond Italy’s territorial waters. When EU officials decided on the more limited scope of Triton, they knew their decision would result in the drowning of numerous migrants. As one Frontex official wryly noted, “the withdrawal of naval assets from the area, if not properly planned and announced well in advance, would likely result in a higher number of fatalities.” But the European Commission turned a blind eye – leading to a spike in migrant deaths, which the authors, Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani meticulously document.

From a legal perspective, this set of circumstances raises the question whether the migrants’ rights were violated, and if so, whether EU actors can be held legally accountable. In my view, the report exposes no illegal activity by European agents, either at the operational or at the policymaking level. Perhaps more troubling, the report raises the specter of unaccountable violence ingrained in the very structure of international law. If international law is somehow to blame for circumstances that made these utterly preventable deaths possible, then perhaps it is law itself that should be indicted.

Law of the Land, Law of the Sea

To explain what I mean by that, several rather theoretical remarks are required.

In common law countries, one of the first things law students learn is that law imposes no duties of rescue upon individuals qua individuals.  The classical jurisprudence on this includes comically macabre examples. A characteristic hypothetical describes a bystander witnessing a drowning baby. Law professors often use the initially astonishing absence of a duty of rescue to illustrate a basic tenet of legal positivism: the distinction between legal and moral prescription (or “the separation thesis”). Students are expected to adopt this distinction as a second nature. Rescuing the drowning stranger, they are comforted, is morally required. Of course, there are important exceptions to the general absence of a duty of recue. The basic point nevertheless stands: law does not impose a duty of rescue. Law does not always follow moral prescription. Read the rest of this entry…

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