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Home Archive for category "Human Rights"

R v TRA: Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture and the Public Official Requirement

Published on November 20, 2019        Author: 

 

Last week’s decision of the UK Supreme Court in the R v TRA (Appellant) case provides an important confirmation that armed group members can be prosecuted under s134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The decision should be welcomed for providing authoritative guidance on how Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture should be interpreted, when applied to prosecutions at national level.   Specifically, the judgment addresses the interpretation of the phrase ‘public official or other person acting in an official capacity’, finding that the words ‘other person acting in an official capacity’ can be interpreted to include members of armed groups which exercise governmental control over civilian population in a territory over which they control. It distinguishes these kinds of groups from armed groups whose activities are ‘purely military’. This judgment is to be welcomed as it confirms that members of non-State armed groups can be prosecuted for acts amounting to torture. It is also to be welcomed because the interpretation of Article 1 has long been discussed in academic writings (see Gaeta, Clapham & Gaeta, Fortin, Rodenhauser), and partly pertains to the larger question of when and whether armed non State actors are bound by human rights obligations.

It seems that the majority was mainly persuaded by (i) the ordinary meaning of Article 1 and (ii) the purpose of the Convention to establish a regime for international regulation of ‘official torture’, as opposed to private acts of individuals. According to the court, torture perpetrated on behalf of a de facto governmental authority is clearly a matter of proper concern to the international community and within the rationale of the Convention’s regime. The arguments that lead the Court to this conclusion are too detailed and varied to review in their entirety, but I want to address the following three aspects of the judgment: (i) the Supreme Court’s handling of the ordinary meaning of Article 1 (ii) its interpretation of the practice of the Committee Against Torture and (iii) the consequences of the judgment on the relationship between IHL and IHRL.

Ordinary Meaning of Article 1

In several different places in the judgment, the Court made clear that it was not convinced by the appellant’s argument that only persons acting for or on behalf of a State can perpetrate torture. Read the rest of this entry…

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Part I: What can be done about the length of proceedings at the ICC?

Published on November 15, 2019        Author:  and

 

Editor’s note: this is Part I of a two-part post.

“Judgement does not come suddenly; the proceedings gradually merge into the judgement.”

Franz Kafka, The Trial

Jean-Pierre Bemba made his first appearance before the Pre-Trial Chamber in July 2008. His trial began in November 2010 and lasted four years. Two more years passed before the Trial Chamber found him guilty in March 2016. Another two years passed before the Appeals Chamber finally acquitted him in June 2018. He had been in custody for almost a decade. Other trials at the ICC have lasted nearly as long.

Long proceedings are not unique to the ICC. The most striking case must be the Nyiramasuhuko et al trial at the ICTR. There were six accused, arrested between 1995 and 1998. The trial began in June 2001. All six were convicted ten years later, in June 2011. Their appeals were not resolved until December 2015, by which time one of them had been in detention, awaiting the final resolution of proceedings, for twenty years.

The problem of lengthy criminal proceedings plagues domestic judicial systems, too. Indeed, a significant number of applications before the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) concern alleged violation of the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time under article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”). The extent of the problem in certain countries has prompted the ECtHR to resort to the so-called ‘pilot judgment’ procedure.

What is a reasonable length for criminal proceedings? Read the rest of this entry…

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The European Court of Human Rights and Workplace Surveillance: Where is Article 31(3)(c) VCLT?

Published on November 14, 2019        Author: 

 

Although one may be familiar with criticisms of the EU’s self-contained approach to its own legal system, this case of fragmentation is not limited to the EU alone. In fact, in one of the more recent cases on the docket of the European Court of Human Right (ECtHR), it was the Court’s Grand Chamber that adopted a self-contained attitude towards the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It did so by failing to account for EU rules concerning workplace surveillance which were relevant for the interpretation of the ECHR.

In López Ribalda and Others v. Spain (Applications nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13) (the Decision), a Spanish employer installed hidden CCTV cameras as part of an investigation into ‘inconsistencies between the stock level and the sales figures’ (§12 of the Decision). The employees were not informed about the existence of such cameras (§13 of the Decision). Subsequently, some of them were filmed while stealing (or while they were aiding other people who were stealing goods from the supermarket) and were dismissed (§§14-16 of the Decision). The dismissals were challenged in the Spanish courts as the evidence used for this was obtained through an act (covert video surveillance) which (allegedly) breached the applicants’ right to protection of privacy. However the Spanish courts rejected these claims. It was considered that the employer acted in a proportionate manner, as the measures were necessary, were limited in time and were focused on the supermarket’s checkout counters (§§19-39 of the Decision). Read the rest of this entry…

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Social Justice Quests in the Process of Development-induced Displacement

Published on November 12, 2019        Author: 

 

“For millions of people around the world—development has cost them their homes, their livelihoods, their health, and even their very lives.”

                             – W. Courtland Robinson

Introduction

The term development-induced displacement (DID) by itself mirrors two contradictory notions, which rightly represent the dilemma associated with this form of involuntary displacement. On the one hand, “development” has a positive connotation, as it represents the social and economic advancement of a given society, and on the other hand, displacement entails the involuntary removal of people from their homes or residences, which comes with various socio-economic risks. DID, whether or not it is followed by planned resettlement, refers to the involuntary displacement of persons from their homes or habitual residence in order to make a room for development projects. With the proliferation of large scale development projects, particularly in developing and highly populated countries, DID has emerged as one of the prominent causes of internal displacement affecting an estimated number of 15 million people every year (see Heather Randell, 2017).

DID has various risks and impacts, which extends from inherent socio-economic problems to grave human rights violations, on displaced persons. This is especially true when the resettlement programs fail short of equitable standards and adequate procedural guarantees are not accorded. The acquisition of land and eviction that DID entails subject those affected to homelessness, landlessness, loss or decrease of income, and social disintegration, among others. These further create unfavourable living conditions, food insecurity, and increase morbidity and mortality rates. These consequences of DID often extend to a long period resulting in chronic impoverishment of those affected. Overall, as Michael Cernea puts it, “being forcibly ousted from one’s land and habitat by a dam, reservoir or highway is not only immediately disruptive and painful, it is also fraught with serious long term risks of becoming poorer than before displacement, more vulnerable economically, and disintegrated socially” (see Michael Cernea, in Tim Allen (ed), 1996). Having this background in mind, this article seeks to elucidate the social justice concerns DID gives rise to. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: Human Rights
 

An Arusha-based World Court on Human Rights for African States?

Published on November 7, 2019        Author: 

 

The Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) enjoys a distinctively broad contentious jurisdiction extending to ‘all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, this Protocol and any other relevant Human Rights instrument ratified by the States concerned’ (Article 3(1) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)). The ACtHPR’s striking feature sets it apart also from most international courts. One may even argue that, as far as African States are concerned, the ACtHPR functions as a world court on human rights by consolidating human rights obligations of State parties under the auspices of a single judicial body on a regional level. In this post I will offer a few, brief thoughts on some of the legal issues pertaining to the material jurisdiction of the ACtHPR. For a detailed analysis of these matters see my recent article in the Human Rights Law Review.

The ACtHPR’s approach

The ACtHPR has proved itself willing to exercise its material jurisdiction to the fullest possible extent. It systematically applies, and finds violations of, other human rights treaties, including regional, sub-regional and UN treaties, and it orders the respondent States to comply with their respective obligations. Some scenarios on how applicants submit complaints are:

  1. bringing a case claiming a violation of a right which is not protected under the ACHPR but is protected by another treaty ratified by the State concerned;
  2. alleging a breach of a right which, although included in the ACHPR, is formulated in another treaty in a manner that ensures a higher level of protection (see, Lohé Issa Konaté);
  3. claiming a violation of a human right which is protected in the same way under both the ACHPR and another treaty, but no mechanism is envisaged or is available to the applicant under that other treaty to bring an individual complaint (see Tanganyika Law Society);
  4. choosing to bring a complaint before the ACtHPR (instead of, or in addition to, another international body) as a litigation strategy (e.g., physical proximity to a forum, litigation costs, avoidance of stricter admissibility criteria before UN human rights bodies).

New designs and old anxieties Read the rest of this entry…

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Case Closed, but what about the Execution of the Judgment? The closure of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia

Published on October 30, 2019        Author:  and

 

 

In the beginning of October, EJIL: Talk! published a series of posts (here and here) by George Stafford, one of the co-directors of the European Implementation Network, who raised alarm about the status of execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (the ECtHR). Based on the available statistical data, George argued that the problem of non-execution is “far more widespread than many believe.” Our post continues to address the important issue of the execution of judgments of the ECtHR by focusing on a specific case, namely Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia – a 2013 judgment concerning the disenfranchisement of prisoners in Russia. 

On September 25th, the Committee of Ministers (the CM) of the Council of Europe, which pursuant to Article 46(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights (the ECHR or the Convention) supervises the execution of judgments of the ECtHR, adopted a final resolution CM/ResDH(2019)240, which closed the supervision of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia. The closure of the case means that Russia has complied with Anchugov and Gladkov judgment, as per assessment of the CM.

Anchugov and Gladkov became a test case for the Russian Constitutional Court (the RCC) under the domestic mechanism introduced in 2015, which permitted the Russian authorities to refuse the execution of judgments of the ECtHR on the basis of the RCC’s assessment of non-compliance of such judgments with the Russian Constitution. The RCC’s 2016 ruling of 19 April 2016 finding that the execution of Anchugov and Gladkov judgment was “(im)possible” provoked strong criticism from legal scholars and became a symbol of Russia’s resistance to the authority of the ECtHR. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is the UN Violating International Labour Standards?

Published on October 29, 2019        Author: 

The recent controversy regarding UNOPS consultants in Geneva has triggered a much larger and long-overdue debate on the use of ´non-staff personnel´ in the UN system and the asymmetries in their working conditions with respect to UN staff.

On 2012, the United Nations’ Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) published a report on a survey aimed at assessing the practices of individual consultancies and other non-staff personnel in the UN System, including various specialized agencies. The investigation revealed that use of non-staff personnel in the UN amounts to approximately 40 percent of its total workforce. One of the key reasons for the use of non-staff personnel, according to the report, is the lack of sufficient resources to pay for a staff position in conjunction with the strain of having to deliver with scarce funding. A further 2014 report specified another reason to hire non-staff personnel: greater flexibility in the recruitment process in comparison to staff recruitment. In spite of numerous recommendations made by the JIU to UN agencies, regarding contracting practices, no real progress has been made to address the aforementioned issues and solve them.

Consultants in the UN, generally maintain a contractual relationship with a UN Agency but are not considered formal ’employees’. While the use of consultants does not appear prima facie to be a breach of human rights standards on labour, I argue in this post, that the manner in which consultancy contracts are being implemented by the UN is inconsistent with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ principle.

UN Consultancy Schemes and the ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ Principle

Article 7 of the ICESCR stipulates that members of the Convention should guarantee fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value “without distinction of any kind”. As for the scope of the term “remuneration”, in the ICESCR drafting sessions there was a general consensus that the term comprises other benefits “beyond monetary wages” such as social security, family and child benefits, as was later established in the ILO Convention 100. Therefore the ‘equal pay for equal work’ principle not only involves a monthly salary but it also includes other social benefits. Read the rest of this entry…

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Turkey’s Military Operation in Syria: A Freedom of Expression Perspective

Published on October 28, 2019        Author: 

There is no doubt that Turkey’s use of force in Syria and the unfolding consequences thereof should generate much legal debate and analysis. The legal issues are broad. They cover primary norms under international law on the use of force, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law. In addition, the relationship between the Turkish Armed Forces and Free Syria Army (or Syria National Army as recently renamed in Turkey) engages questions of attribution alongside individual criminal responsibility under international law. Alongside this long list of issues of engaging the state responsibility of Turkey, we can certainly ask whether any third-state responsibility is engaged and whether other states have been facilitating acts, which would have been unlawful if they carried them out themselves.

Some of these issues have been addressed on EJIL Talk!  here and here, and, elsewhere, here and here. Some have generated responses and counter claims here and here. My aim here is to highlight one, as yet, unaddressed aspect — freedom of expression and, academic freedom as a lex specialis of freedom of expression.

Discussions about Turkey’s military actions on international law blogs thus far have not been written by Turkish international lawyers, with one exception: a reply to a post on EJIL Talk! defending Turkey’s justifications for the lawfulness of the use of force under ius ad bellum.  My hunt for academic seminars held on these issues at any university in Turkey has drawn only blanks. Not one single academic seminar, not one single debate has been held to discuss multilayered legal issues around a major military operation. This is curious. Why do Turkish international lawyers not partake in the opportunity to debate and discuss international law in real time, and use their linguistic advantage to access key sources?

Read the rest of this entry…

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The ECtHR on Disembarkation of Rescued Refugees and Migrants at Greek Hotspots

Published on October 25, 2019        Author: 

The storm-tossed question of disembarking rescued refugees and migrants

The pressure of mass migration in the Mediterranean on EU sea-border states calls for other member states to contribute to humanitarian efforts at sea that respect the human rights of refugees and migrants. Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC) codifies the maritime duty to rescue persons in distress and creates the complementary duty on coastal states to cooperate in operating search and rescue (SAR) services. Under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention) the relevant coastal state must ensure timely disembarkation of survivors at a ‘place of safety’ (see e.g. 1979 SAR Convention Annex ch. 3, 3.1.9). However, poor reception and detention conditions at Greek hotspots in the Aegean Sea raise the question of whether disembarkation at these EU assigned facilities will be in contravention of obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in particular the Article 3 prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment.

Following an overview of the current conditions at the Greek hotspots, this study considers a number of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) exploring extraterritorial liability for disembarkation and the relevance of the contexts of maritime rescue and mass migration to the overall assessment of Article 3. Despite problems such as severe overcrowding, Convention states may be able to disembark at Greek hotspots without triggering Article 3 liability. Read the rest of this entry…

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Turkey, Aggression, and the Right to Life Under the ECHR: A Reaction to Professor Haque’s Post

Published on October 22, 2019        Author: 

Professor Haque yesterday published a thought-provoking piece on this blog arguing that the Turkish incursion against Kurdish forces in Syria, beyond being a violation of the UN Charter, also amounts to a violation of the right to life under the ECHR. His reasoning, which is sound, is based on the Human Rights Committee’s rather controversial new General Comment 36 on the right to life under the ICCPR, where the Committee concludes that States Parties to the Covenant engaging in acts of aggression resulting in deaths violate ipso facto Article 6 (for its part, the HCRttee itself draws on the opinion of academics such as William Schabas who originally developed the argument).

I do not disagree with Professor Haque’s logic, which is, like that of the HRCttee, internally sound. However, I disagree with the exceptionalism which often seems to characterize attempts to include jus ad bellum in the lawfulness test for arbitrary deprivation of life– and, respectfully, Professor Haque’s piece suffers from that same exceptionalism.

The classical view of permissible violence in armed conflicts, based on the long-standing distinction between jus in bello and jus ad bellum, is actually a coherent and credible legal position – one that has the additional advantage of being the mainstream interpretation. It is entirely plausible to maintain that the UN Charter does not mix very well with human rights or humanitarian law instruments. The whole structure of IHL has been built on the premise of its separation from the lawfulness of resorting to force, and the ICRC itself continues to strongly defend this position.

But the emerging understanding of the right to life in light of jus ad bellum is also a coherent, well-structured and convincing interpretation of treaty law, from the point of view of human rights law taken in relative isolation. The fact that this interpretation has also been authoritatively endorsed by a treaty body gives it an aura of credibility that few “progressive” interpretations raised in doctrine can usually aspire to. But the mere fact that a particular interpretation of treaty law makes sense does not mean that it should actually be made.

Read the rest of this entry…

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