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Home Human Rights Archive for category "European Convention on Human Rights"

Human Rights Implementation: Our Shared Responsibility

Published on March 22, 2015        Author: 

After excursions to Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton, Council of Europe states meet again this week, in Brussels, to discuss further reform of the Europe-wide human rights system. Taking their turn to chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Belgian government has decided to focus attention on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

Such an emphasis is very much to be welcomed, as it remains the obvious Achilles heel in the human rights system. In its report last year on the ‘Brighton Declaration and Beyond’, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) lauded the Court for its ‘extraordinary contribution’ to the protection of human rights in Europe. It went on, however, to deplore the way states respond to the Court’s judgments, noting that ‘the prevailing challenges facing the Court, most notably the high number of repetitive applications as well as persisting human rights violations of a particularly serious nature, reveal a failure by certain High Contracting Parties to discharge their obligations under the Convention’.

The statistics show the weight of the burden that this is creating. At the end of 2013, there were more than 11,000 unresolved cases pending before the Committee of Ministers (CM) (which has the role, under the Convention of supervising the implementation of the Court’s judgments). The latest CM annual report on the execution of judgments also acknowledges the increasing proportion of unresolved cases which concern systemic or structural issues – just under 1,500 such ‘leading’ cases were still outstanding in December 2013. These cases relate to endemic problems, such as poor prison conditions, violations arising from the restitution of property, the non-execution of domestic court judgments and the excessive length of proceedings, the excessive use of force by state security forces and systemic failings as regards the functioning of the judiciary.

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The Case of Russia’s Detention of Ukrainian Military Pilot Savchenko under IHL

Published on March 3, 2015        Author: 

There has been much debate in recent weeks over whether international humanitarian law (IHL) authorizes internment in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) (see posts here, here and here). Both sides have presented convincing arguments but without applying them to concrete situations. In this regard, Russia’s ongoing detention of Ukrainian Air Force officer Nadia Savchenko provides a timely case study. As detailed below, the detention of certain categories of people raises questions during both NIACs and international armed conflicts (IACs), depending on who the detaining authorities are.

Lieutenant Savchenko was allegedly captured in full uniform in Eastern Ukraine on or about June 18, 2014 by the armed forces of the Luhansk People’s Republic during active hostilities. Several days later, the separatists transferred her to Russian special forces, who in turn transported her to Russia. Russia, however, claims that Savchenko crossed the border voluntarily and was detained as an undocumented refugee. In any case, on July 9, 2014, Russian authorities announced that Savchenko was detained in a civilian detention center in Voronezh, Russia, facing charges of directing mortar fire that killed two Russian journalists during an attack on a separatist checkpoint outside of Luhansk. Currently, Savchenko is kept in a detention facility in Moscow, facing an additional charge of trespass.

Savchenko, who is on a hunger strike to protest the charges, has filed a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights alleging that her detention violates her rights to liberty (Article 5) and a fair trial (Article 6) as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR gave Savchenko’s initial application priority, but on February 10 refused to grant Savchenko’s Rule 39 request for interim measures compelling Russia to immediately release the prisoner. The court instead asked Savchenko to end her hunger strike and Russia to provide more facts concerning her detention. Read the rest of this entry…

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Too Soon for the Right to Hope? Whole Life Sentences and the Strasbourg Court’s Decision in Hutchinson v UK

Published on February 5, 2015        Author: 

Monday’s judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in Hutchinson v UK may have slowed progress towards the goal of ending whole-life sentences in the Council of Europe. That goal appeared to be edging closer after the Grand Chamber’s 2013 ruling in Vinter & Ors v UK, but Monday’s judgment suggests that it is still too soon to speak of a ‘right to hope’ (to use the language favoured by Judge Power-Forde in his separate opinion in Vinter). The court’s Fourth Section held in Hutchinson that the prospect of executive review of the applicant’s sentence (in the form of a discretion exercisable by the Secretary of State to release prisoners in exceptional circumstances) satisfied the requirements of Article 3.

The applicant in Hutchinson was sentenced to life imprisonment upon conviction of burglary, rape and triple murder. He argued that, following Vinter, whole life sentences with no possibility of parole are inhuman and degrading. However, the Grand Chamber’s judgment in Vinter left a loophole, and the court in Hutchinson marched through it. The loophole was the discretion of the Secretary of State for Justice under s30(1) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to release life prisoners on licence in certain circumstances. In the language of the statute, the circumstances must be ‘exceptional’ and they must warrant release ‘on compassionate grounds’. The Ministry of Justice ‘Lifer Manual’ elaborates further. It provides a list (purporting to be exhaustive) of the grounds on which the discretion will be exercised. They are: where the prisoner is terminally ill; death is likely to occur shortly (a period of three months is mentioned as a guide); appropriate care can be provided outside prison; there is a ‘minimal’ risk of reoffending; and ‘further imprisonment would reduce the prisoner’s life expectancy’. The Grand Chamber in Vinter concluded that ‘compassionate release of this kind’ did not provide a realistic ‘prospect of release’ as required by Article 3 (p45, §127).

That seems straightforward enough, but here comes the twist. The UK had submitted in Vinter that it was possible to read s30 as imposing a duty on the Secretary of State to release a prisoner if detention had ‘become incompatible with Article 3, for example, when it can no longer be justified on legitimate penological grounds’ (p44, §125). The Grand Chamber accepted that this reading of s30 ‘would, in principle’ comply with Article 3 (p44, §125), and that executive review of a whole life sentence can suffice (p43, §120). However, ‘the present lack of clarity’ for life prisoners as to whether their sentences were reducible (p45, §129) contravened Article 3.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Jurisdiction, Attribution and Responsibility in Jaloud

Published on December 11, 2014        Author: 

In my last post on the Jaloud v. Netherlands case, I looked primarily at the bottom line of the case and what it will mean for the future. In this post, however, I would like to try to clarify the conceptual framework of jurisdiction, attribution and responsibility (which Aurel also looked at in his post) that the Court used (or should have used) in the case. The key parts of the judgment in that regard are paras. 140-155, which I will not reproduce in full here, plus the concurring opinion of Judge Spielmann, joined by Judge Raimondi.

It is clear from even a cursory read of the Spielmann opinion (as well as the concurring opinion of Judge Motoc, who writes in opposition to the two other Judges), that the judges of the Grand Chamber found the question of the relationship between the Article 1 ECHR concept of state jurisdiction, and general international law concepts such as attribution of conduct and responsibility for wrongful acts, to be particularly vexing. Judging by the language used, there must have been quite the internal debate. Judges Spielmann and Raimondi found the Court’s use of the attribution concept and its references to the case law of the ICJ (para. 95-97) and the ILC’s Articles on State Responsibility (para. 98, quoting articles 2, 6 and 8) to have been exceptionally objectionable, indeed ‘ambiguous, subsidiary and incomprehensible.‘ For the two Judges, attribution was a ‘non-issue’ in the case, which the Court should have avoided:

There was therefore no need to examine the non-issue of “attribution”, which is completely separate from the question of “jurisdiction”. More fundamentally, the Court should in any event be careful not to conflate the notions of jurisdiction under Article 1 with the concept of State responsibility under general international law. Efforts to seek to elucidate the former by reference to the latter are conceptually unsound and likely to cause further confusion in an already difficult area of law.

Contrary to the two Judges, I will try to show that attribution was, in fact, a central issue in the case, and that the Court’s approach, including references to the ILC’s work on state responsibility, was generally sound. However, I will also show that the Court could have been clearer in explaining what it was actually doing, which would have had the salutary effect of avoiding potentially confusing points for future cases. In fact, at least to an external observer, the divide between the majority and the two Judges is not as great as it might first seem, and the important conceptual points that they raise in the separate opinion can and should be adequately addressed.

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‘Temporary Exclusion Orders’ and their Implications for the United Kingdom’s International Legal Obligations, Part I

Published on December 8, 2014        Author: 

This is Part I of a two-part post, a modified version of a legal opinion submitted to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. This Part discusses the implications of temporary exclusion orders for the UK’s international obligations to British citizens. Part II, to be published tomorrow, will discuss the implications for its obligations to other States.

Introduction

The United Kingdom Government’s recent proposals to introduce a system of ‘temporary exclusion orders’ (TEOs) to be applied to British citizens raise a number of international legal issues, including (a) the responsibility of the State to its citizens; (b) the responsibility of the State to other States; and (c) the responsibility of the State to the international community of States at large when combatting terrorism.

In my view, the proposal for a system of TEOs to be applied to British citizens raises a host of insuperable legal and practical problems.

First, denying entry to the United Kingdom of British citizens suspected of involvement in international crimes or serious crimes of international concern, besides posing potential risks for other States, is likely incompatible with the duties which the State owes to its citizens, with the rights of other States, and with the obligation of the UK to prosecute certain offences (for which concerted international action is required).

Second, at the practical level, there is no reason to suppose that any other State would be prepared to accept the risks incidental to assuming responsibility for excluded British citizens. These risks include the security question – the possible threat to the community of the ‘host’ State – as well as the legal risks which attach to taking responsibility for the individuals concerned, whether or not they are detained. As the United Kingdom now recognizes its duty to admit its citizens on deportation, any potential host State would be well advised to go for this option.

Third, the implementation of TEOs in practice, though speculative at this stage, seems likely also to impede the UK’s ability to fulfil its international obligations to combat terrorism, effectively and in good faith, and the scheme certainly outwith the letter and the spirit of paragraph 6 of Security Council resolution 2178 (2014).

Finally, it is clear, in my opinion, that TEOs will engage the legal rights of those affected, under the common law (including the writ of habeas corpus), possibly under European Union law (cf. the judgments of the Grand Chamber in Rottman v Freistaat Bayern and Zambrano v Office national de l’emploi), and certainly under the European Convention on Human Rights. The ensuing and readily foreseeable litigation will lead to considerable wastage of resources and funds which would be better directed to implementation of the measures identified by the Security Council in resolution 2178 (2014). The TEO initiative, in my view, should be abandoned in the public interest. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Bottom Line of Jaloud

Published on November 26, 2014        Author: 

Following up on Aurel’s post on the Jaloud v. Netherlands case, I want to add a few brief thoughts regarding the bottom line of the judgment and what it means for the overseas military operations of European states.

First, Jaloud confirms the general trend in the European Court’s case law towards a more expansive approach to the extraterritorial application of the ECHR. Whether you think an expansive approach is a good idea or not, the trend is there, since the normative pull of universality is hard to resist, and as the Court becomes increasingly more familiar with applying the Convention to extraordinary situations. I personally feel that the judgment is correct in its basic approach to extraterritoriality, even if there is some conceptual confusion between various questions of jurisdiction and attribution, on which I will write separately. But the basic message to states is this: trying to exploit the many contradictions in the Court’s case law on extraterritoriality to deny the applicability of the Convention in this case or that will in most circumstances end in defeat. Rather than fighting a losing battle, states should focus their energies on arguments on the merits on which they are more likely to win.

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Jaloud v Netherlands: New Directions in Extra-Territorial Military Operations

Published on November 24, 2014        Author: 

Last week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in Jaloud v Netherlands. The case arose out of the fatal shooting of Azhar Sabah Jaloud by Dutch troops in the early hours of 21 April 2004 at a checkpoint in Iraq. The applicant claimed that the investigation into the incident was inadequate and therefore in breach of the Netherlands’ procedural obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Jaloud is the latest in a growing line of Strasbourg cases addressing the application of the Convention to extra-territorial military operations. The Court’s jurisprudence on the subject is a source of endless fascination. Like any good thriller, its twists and turns leave the observer suspended in fearful anticipation on a never ending quest for legal certainty. Will the law stretch as far as the facts or is jurisdiction a threshold too far? Will the Court prevail against conceptual confusion? Which of its dicta is up for silent reversal? And what will be the next victim of normative conflict?

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The Naked Rambler in the European Court

Published on October 30, 2014        Author: 

Readers may recall that a couple of years ago I wrote about the story of Stephen Gough, aka the Naked Rambler, a man who has been repeatedly incarcerated in British prisons since 2006 for his refusal to wear any clothing in public. Indeed, he has spent most of that time in solitary confinement, since he could not join the rest of the prison population while refusing to wear clothes. Gough’s behaviour is due to a strongly and sincerely held belief that there is nothing shameful about the naked human body. And while Gough certainly has been obstinate (and has for some unfathomable reason sacrificed his family and other relationships for the sake of this cause), he is not crazy – indeed, his psychiatric evaluations have been stellar.

This case is so interesting precisely because it juxtaposes the expressive interests of a single individual against the preferences of the vast majority of ordinary people, who disapprove of public nudity, and because of the way that the machinery of the state is used to enforce a societal nudity taboo. Indeed, Gough’s case now rambled all the way to Strasbourg. This week, a unanimous Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights rejected Gough’s claims that his freedom of expression and right to private life were violated by his convictions in the UK (app. no. 49327/11).

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A Few Thoughts on Hassan v. United Kingdom

Published on October 22, 2014        Author: 

Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne has written an excellent analysis of the European Court’s recent Hassan v. UK judgment, which I fully subscribe to and have nothing substantive to add. Rather, I wish to use this post to outline some thoughts on the practical impact of Hassan, its bottom line and possible future influence.

(1) When it comes to the extraterritorial application of the Convention, the Court has now reaffirmed that de facto physical custody will ipso facto constitute Article 1 jurisdiction, within the personal model of jurisdiction as authority and control over an individual. The Court did not seem to put any limits on this principle (and rightly so), not even the vague idea of ‘public powers’ that it invented in Bankovic and imported into the personal model of jurisdiction in Al-Skeini (cf. the Court’s finding in Hassan, para. 75 that the events took place before the UK assumed responsibility for the maintenance of security in South East Iraq, which was the basis for the ‘public powers’ in Al-Skeini). Similarly, the Court (again, rightly) focused on factual control, disregarding some of the formal arrangements under a memorandum of understanding between the UK and the US (para. 78), and finding that ‘Tarek Hassan fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom from the moment of his capture by United Kingdom troops, at Umm Qasr on 23 April 2003, until his release from the bus that took him from Camp Bucca to the drop-off point, most probably Umm Qasr on 2 May 2003 ‘ (para. 80).

The bottom-line of this approach is that whenever the military forces of a European state capture any individual, no matter where that individual is located (note how the Court again, like in Al-Skeini, explicitly avoided ruling whether the territory of South Iraq was under UK control for the purpose of the spatial conception of jurisdiction (para. 75)), the Convention will apply by virtue of the personal conception of Article 1 jurisdiction as authority and control over individuals. The Convention will apply on this basis not only to detention operations in Afghanistan, but also to situations such as the French intervention in Mali, the capture of Ukrainian soldiers by Russian forces in Crimea, etc. This is fully consistent with the English High Court’s Serdar Mohammed judgment, which rejected the UK government’s attempts to confine Al-Skeini to the facts of Iraq (for our previous coverage of Serdar Mohammed, see here).

In short, European soldiers carry the ECHR with them whenever they engage in capture operations. Military legal advisers and other officials will hence inevitably have to take the Convention into account (as many have been doing anyway). Use of force operations are not so comprehensively covered – at least for the time being.

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MH 17 Goes to Strasbourg: Some Remarks on Obligations of Prevention, Foreseeability and Causation

Published on October 9, 2014        Author: 

pusztaiDavid Pusztai is a PhD candidate in international law at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge.

The families of the German victims of the tragic MH 17 incident have reportedly decided to claim compensation from Ukraine. Although the details and the legal foundations of the claim have not been disclosed, what we know is that Professor Elmar Giemulla, representing the claimants, intends to bring this case before the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR]. According to Professor Giemulla, “[e]ach state is responsible for the security of its air space […] If it is not able to [protect its air space] temporarily, it must close its air space. As that did not happen, Ukraine is liable for the damage.”

At the present stage many specific details are unclear, such as the admissibility of the claim or its articulation in the language of human rights law instead of international air law. There is, however, one apparently clear choice of legal strategy based on Professor Giemulla’s announcement: the identification of the internationally wrongful act in question, namely, Ukraine’s omission to close its airspace and to permit continued traffic.

Ukraine was indeed required to “take all practicable measures” to prevent offenses against the safety of international aviation under the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Article 10). Given its sovereignty over its airspace, the customary duty to take reasonable steps to protect aliens within its territory required the same from Ukraine, just as its human rights obligations did under the European Convention of Human Rights. In Ilaşcu v. Moldova and Russiathe ECtHR held that the State’s positive obligations do not cease to exist when de facto it is not able to control a part of its territory. Ukraine, to use the Court’s language, “must endeavour, with all the legal and diplomatic means available to it vis-à-vis foreign States and international organisations, to continue to guarantee the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention”, even within the territory controlled by separatists (see para. 333 of Ilaşcu).

The legal basis of MH 17’s presence in Ukraine’s airspace was Article 1 of the 1944 International Air Services Transit Agreement, conferring the right on foreign aircraft engaged in scheduled international air services to fly across its territory (both Ukraine and Malaysia are parties to the Agreement). Closing the airspace would have been one of  the “legal means” available for Ukraine under the same Article, given that the exercise of this privilege (the “first freedom of the air”) is subject to the specific approval of Ukrainian authorities in “areas of active hostilities”according to the same Article 1. Further, Article 9 of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation provides that States may, “for reasons of military necessity or public safety”, restrict or prohibit foreign aircraft from using certain parts of their airspace. One important constraint is that such restriction “shall be of a reasonable extent and location so as not to interfere unnecessarily with air navigation.”  In fact, Ukraine exercised this right before the MH 17 tragedy and closed its airspace up to flight level 320 (32 000 ft); MH 17 was flying at flight level 330.

The question whether Ukraine’s failure to completely close its airspace before the incident is in itself a breach of international law (may it be international air law, international human rights law or law of the treatment of aliens) is an intriguing one, yet the present post focuses on a second possible hurdle for this claim:  the issue of causation (for more on air law aspects, see Professor Abeyratne’s article here) . Article 31 of the ILC Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts [ARSIWA] provides that the obligation to provide reparation is conditional upon a causal nexus between the internationally wrongful act and the damage. Did Ukraine’s decision to leave open its airspace above flight level 320 in the Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Region cause the downing of MH 17?  Read the rest of this entry…

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