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

Published on April 17, 2014        Author: 

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

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

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

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

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

Published on April 8, 2014        Author: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published on March 19, 2014        Author: 

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

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

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

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

Published on March 13, 2014        Author: 

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

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

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

Published on March 7, 2014        Author: 

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

Jurisdiction

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

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

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

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

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Jones v. UK: A Disappointing End

Published on January 16, 2014        Author: 

Lorna McGregor is the Director of the Human Rights Centre and Reader in Law at the University of Essex.  She was previously the International Legal Adviser at REDRESS which acted as a third party intervener in the case.

In 2012, Professor Andrea Bianchi pronounced on EJIL Talk! that we finally had certainty on the relationship between state immunity and human rights with the issuance of the International Court of Justice’s decision in Germany v Italy (Greece Intervening)On the widest argument that jus cogens norms trump immunity, I agreed (‘State Immunity and Human Rights: Is there a Future after Germany v Italy’ 1 JICJ 2013).  The Italian and Greek courts had been the only national courts to entertain the proposition and no court was likely to do so again once the ICJ had resolutely rejected it.  However, I speculated that we did not have certainty yet on two issues:

1)      whether the provision of state immunity violates the right of access to a court where no alternative remedy exists; and

2)      whether foreign state officials enjoy subject-matter immunity in civil proceedings for alleged acts that attract individual responsibility under international law.

The European Court now appears to have firmly closed the door on these two points but in a way that is dissatisfying for the reasoning it employs to get there.

A Lack of Alternative Means to Resolve the Complaint

In Jones and Others v United Kingdom, my expectation was that the Court would resolve the confusion that started in Al-AdsaniIn that case, the Court rejected the Government’s argument that Article 6(1) did not apply to ‘matters outside the State’s jurisdiction’ and ‘as international law required an immunity in the present case, the facts fell outside the jurisdiction of the national courts and, consequently, Article 6’ (para 44).  However, in finding Article 6(1) to be engaged, it also failed to take up the Government’s submission that ‘[t]here were other, traditional means of redress for wrongs of this kind available to the applicant, namely diplomatic representations or an inter-State claim’ (para 50).

The decision was subsequently criticised by those who considered the international law on state immunity to preclude the engagement of Article 6(1).  It was also criticised by those who considered that if the Court was correct in its finding that Article 6(1) was engaged, then it had to analyse the impact of the restriction fully.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Jones v UK: The re-integration of State and official immunity?

Published on January 14, 2014        Author: 

Philippa Webb is Lecturer in Public International Law at King’s College London. She is the co-author, with Lady Hazel Fox QC, of the third edition of The Law of State Immunity (OUP 2013).

As regards the immunity of the State, the 6-1 decision in Jones and Others v the United Kingdom to uphold the immunity of Saudi Arabia was to be expected: in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment, the principal judicial organ of the UN clearly stated that that there was no exception to State immunity for jus cogens violations. The Fourth Section of the ECtHR felt no need to examine national developments in detail as the ICJ Judgment must be considered as ‘authoritative as regards the content of customary international law’ (para 198).

The razor-thin majority of the Grand Chamber in Al-Adsani 13 years ago has now been buttressed by both the ICJ and the Fourth Section of the ECtHR.

But the decision in Jones to uphold the immunity of the State officials even in the face of allegations of torture is more surprising. It stretches the meaning of the ICJ Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment and goes against two emerging trends: (1) accountability of non-high ranking State officials for serious human rights violations; (2) the diversification of various forms of immunity. Let me take these issues in turn.

Accountability of State officials for torture

As the ECtHR Chamber acknowledges (para 92), the ICJ emphasised in the Jurisdictional Immunities Judgment that it was addressing ‘only the immunity of the State itself from the jurisdiction of the courts of other States; the question of whether and to what extent immunity might apply in criminal proceedings against an official of the State is not in issue in the present case’ (para 91 of the ICJ Judgment). Yet, the ECtHR followed the ICJ’s Judgment with respect to the immunity of State officials as well as that of the State. In its 2012 Judgment, the ICJ had been silent as to immunity of a State official from civil proceedings, but it was clear that the Judgment was focused on the State itself and arguably even limited to ‘acts committed on the territory of the forum State by the armed forces of a foreign State … in the course of conducting an armed conflict’ (para 65). Read the rest of this entry…

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“You Can’t Change the Meeting Place” – Khodorkovsky, Bad Faith, and the European Court of Human Rights

Published on January 6, 2014        Author: 

Julian LehmannJulian Lehmann is a research associate at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, Germany and a SJD candidate at Dresden University of Technology.

“Ten Years a Prisoner”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (pictured right, credit), the former Russian business magnate and opposition sponsor was released from prison under a presidential pardon in late December – just two months after he had  commemorated the ten year anniversary of hisMikhail_Khodorkovsky_2013-12-22_3 imprisonment. The images of the tycoon fallen from favor into the dock for many had became symbols for political interference with courts.  Regardless of whether one clings to such symbolism, judicial independence in Russia still leaves much to be desired, not least according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Khodorkovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev are the most prominent alleged victims of political imprisonment. As many will recall, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and convicted in 2005 for tax evasion in the turbulent 1990s. Then, he sold produce of his oil and resource company Yukos to alleged sham Russian firms registered in low tax zones. He was put on trial again in 2010. Vladimir Putin, pending Khodorkovsky’s appeal, bragged in a TV interview that ‘a thief must sit in jail’. He alluded to a phrase from the popular Soviet TV mini-series ‘You Can’t Change the Meeting Place’ – a detective story featuring the dissident artistic icon Vladimir Vysotsky. The title takes up the series’ final, in which Vysotsky suggests that he and his fellow policemen have no choice but to go for a plan that puts their abducted colleague at risk.

Putin omitted the second half of the film’s citation. Vysotsky, the old-school hot rock, repeatedly clashes with his fastidious partner over the choice of means for policing. Not shying away from breaking the law, Vysotsky states that ‘A thief must be in jail – and people are not interested in how I get them there.’

Putin’s candidness about his view on Khodorkovsky hasn’t gone unnoticed. Read the rest of this entry…

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Hassan v. United Kingdom, IHL and IHRL, and Other News in (Extra-)Territoriality and Shared Responsibility

Published on December 18, 2013        Author: 

Last week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held an oral hearing in what is bound to be a very important case, Hassan v. UK. The case deals with the detention of an Iraqi by British forces in southern Iraq and his subsequent release and death under unclear circumstances. As such it raises both threshold questions on extraterritorial applicability/Article 1 jurisdiction and substantive issues on the relationship between human rights and international humanitarian law. Here is the Court’s press release on the hearings, and here’s the actual webcast of the hearings. Shaheed Fatima also has a good preview of the case over at Just Security.

The jurisdiction issue is made more complicated by uncertainties left after Al-Skeini as to whether and when exactly the UK had effective overall control over southern Iraq for the purpose of spatial model of Article 1 jurisdiction, as well as by the fact that the camp to which Hassan was taken upon arrest was run by the US. The multiplicity of actors can thus render both the jurisdiction and the attribution questions more difficult. But I will not deal with them here. Rather, I want to focus on the interaction between the ECHR and IHL.

In that regard, together with the pending Georgia v. Russia interstate case, Hassan presents an excellent opportunity for the Court to articulate a clear and systematic approach on IHL. Hopefully this is an opportunity that the Court will take up, and the questions posed by the various judges during the oral hearing are an indication that they will do so.

Why is Hassan such a good case? Because at least in part it poses the hard question of potentially unavoidable norm conflict (a topic which I have dealt with extensively here, as well as specifically in the context of IHL and IHRL here). On the one hand, the UK is arguing that Hassan’s arrest and preventive security detention were authorized by IHL in an international armed conflict (the exact theory is for the time being beside the point). On the other hand, Article 5 ECHR categorically prohibits preventive security detention; unlike Article 9 ICCPR, which prohibits arbitrary deprivations of liberty, Article 5 ECHR contains an exhaustive list of permitted grounds for detention, and preventive security detention is not one of them. Hence, when states wanted to use internment in the context of internal disturbances or emergencies which may even have reached the level of non-international armed conflict, they had to derogate from Article 5 pursuant to Article 15 ECHR, as the UK did for Northern Ireland.

In the context of Hassan this raises the preliminary question of whether the UK could have derogated with respect to the situation in Iraq (which in any event it did not do), i.e. whether Article 15 ECHR allows for extraterritorial derogations. Article 15 limits derogations to times of ‘war or other public emergency threating the life of the nation.’ In Al-Jedda Lord Bingham expressed doubts that this formulation could extend to situations outside the derogating state, especially those which it had put itself in willingly, a sentiment later echoed by the UK Supreme Court in Smith. In other words, the UK chose to invade Iraq, and however bad the situation was for Iraqis in Iraq it in no meaningful way threatened the life of the UK. Further support for this position would be found in the fact that no state has ever derogated for an extraterritorial situation.

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Banning Niqabs in Public Spaces

Published on December 6, 2013        Author: 

Erica Howard

Dr Erica Howard is reader in law at Middlesex University and the author of Law and the Wearing of Religious Symbols: European Bans on the Wearing of Religious Symbols in Education (Routledge, 2012).

 

Recently the wearing of the niqab, the face-covering veil worn by some Muslim women, has been in the news again after the judgment on the wearing of the niqab by a defendant in criminal proceedings (R v D(R), 16/09/2013, judgment H.H. Judge Peter Murphy). In this case, Judge Murphy applied Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (ECHR). He accepted, following the case law of the European Court of Human rights (ECtHR) on Article 9 ECHR (see, for example, Eweida and Others v the UK; Dahlab v Switzerland and Sahin v Turkey), that the wearing of the niqab was a manifestation of the defendant’s religion and that her right to manifest her religion had been interfered with. He then examined whether the restriction was justified under Article 9(2) using a proportionality test, balancing D’s right to manifest her religion against the interests of justice in conducting a fair trial for everyone involved.

So Murphy followed the approach of the ECtHR. But will the ECtHR do the same in the case of S.A.S. v France, which challenges the French legislation prohibiting the wearing of face-covering clothing in all public spaces? The case was heard by the Grand Chamber on 27 November 2013, after the Chamber, in May 2013, relinquished jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber (for a summary of this hearing see here). It is, at present, not known when the judgment in this case will be published.

S.A.S., a devout Muslim who wears the niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions, was fined for wearing the face covering veil in public and claims a violation of a number of her rights under the ECHR, including her right to manifest her religion under Article 9. As, in my view, Article 9 is the most important and relevant for this case, I will only discuss this article here. Read the rest of this entry…

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