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

Why International Migration Law Does Not Give a License To Discriminate

Published on May 20, 2015        Author: 

Juan Amaya-Castro argues that states’ selective immigration policies are discriminatory, and that this discrimination has been legitimized by international (migration) law. From a legal point of view, this is rather a misperception that confuses differential with discriminatory treatment. The latter is not allowed by contemporary international law as this post will show.

International migration law is not a self-contained legal regime. It is a multi-layered body of law consisting of various international, regional or bilateral treaties and agreements which leave “the alien’s body protected by a varying number of layers (legal regimes) depending upon the sartorial tastes of the State involved” (Richard Lillich, The Human Rights of Aliens in Contemporary International Law, Manchester UP, 1984, 122). Some of the most migrant-protective layers are certainly those provided by international and European human rights law and principles.

As regards migrants’ entry, the UN Human Rights Committee in its 1986 General Comment No 15 noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

“does not recognize the right of aliens to enter or reside in the territory of a State party. It is in principle a matter for the State to decide who it will admit to its territory. However, in certain circumstances an alien may enjoy the protection of the Covenant even in relation to entry or residence, for example when considerations of non-discrimination, prohibition of inhuman treatment and respect for family life arise”.

This is true also under another core law-making treaty, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as interpreted by the Strasbourg Court (see below).

Differential treatment of migrants does not always equal discrimination

Migration control measures that differentiate among (prospective) migrants are not automatically unlawful. Whether such state action affecting migrants constitutes  discrimination is grounded in the principle of prohibition of discrimination enshrined notably in Article 14 ECHR and in Protocol No. 12 to the ECHR. Non-discrimination grounds indicatively enlisted therein are: “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”. Read the rest of this entry…

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A New Case on Torture in Europe: Cestaro v. Italy

Published on May 13, 2015        Author: 

In its judgment of 7 April 2015, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that Italy had violated the prohibition of torture in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Cestaro v. Italy, application no. 6884/11).

Apart from its confirmation of the well-established principles of the ECtHR on the prohibition of torture, the judgment is important for at least two other reasons: the in-depth evaluation of the behaviour exhibited by the authorities of the State involved in the affair and, above all, the Court’s statements concerning the structural nature of the problem of torture.

The case concerned events that occurred during the night of 21 July 2001, after the end of the G8 summit held in Genoa from 19 to 21 July 2001 in the “Diaz-Pertini” school used by some demonstrators as a night shelter (for an overview of the serious incidents caused by demonstrators, including some “black blocks”, see also Giuliani and Gaggio v. Italy, application no. 23458/02).

The “substantive” and “procedural” violations of the prohibition of torture

The violation of Article 3 was “dual” in nature: on “substantive” grounds owing to the ill-treatment of the applicant and on “procedural” grounds owing to the lack of adequate investigations and punishment for the officers who were responsible for the acts of torture.

Regarding the substantive violation, the Court found that anti-riot police units had stormed the school and, as the Italian courts and the ECtHR determined, had used force in a totally disproportionate way, with no real justification and completely ignoring the absence of any form of resistance by the applicant (then aged 62) and by the other occupants of the school (paras. 178-180 of the ECtHR judgment). The Court not only criticised the modus operandi of the police officers but also the planning of the whole operation, taking into account that the police officers had not been given any precise indication or instructions on the use of force and its limits. Read the rest of this entry…

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Are Human Rights Hurting Migrants at Sea?

Published on April 24, 2015        Author: 

Every year hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe. More than 200.000 are thought to have crossed in 2014, reaching the coasts of Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.

The reasons for the crossing are obvious. Some migrants flee conflict and persecution; others simply seek a better life in Europe. Regardless of motivations, crossing is not without perils. The UNHCR estimates that 3.500 lives were lost in 2014 while more than two thousand people have died since 1 January 2015.

After more than 300 migrants drowned near the island of Lampedusa in 2013, the Italian Government established the so-called Operation Mare Nostrum. Mare Nostrum was a humanitarian success. The International Organization for Migration applauded the “heroic work of Italy’s maritime forces”, which rescued some 100.000 people between 2013 and 2014. Despite widespread praise, Mare Nostrum ended in October 2014.

In its place, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (known by the more palatable name Frontex) established operation Triton. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Really, Really Foggy Report

Published on April 15, 2015        Author: 

Eirik Bjorge has written an excellent critique of the Policy Exchange report Clearing the Fog of Law: Saving Our Armed Forces from Defeat by Judicial Diktat, by Richard Ekins, Jonathan Morgan, and Tom Tugendhat. I now write only to add a few additional (and apologetically undiplomatic) comments which I think the report warrants. I do so not because it may be substantively wrong in its conclusions and prescriptions, although some of these may be subject to reasonable disagreement. In fact, when it comes to one of the report’s main recommendations, that the UK (and other states parties) should derogate from the ECHR in (extraterritorial) situations of armed conflict, I at least am on the record as arguing that extraterritorial derogations are both permissible and that they can be a good idea.

My problem with the report is hence not with (some of) its conclusions, but with the quality of its analysis, leading to the misdiagnosis of the chief ailment that it identifies – allegedly extravagant judicial overreach. I have to say, regretfully, that the report’s analysis is crude and unsophisticated. It is in fact so crude and unsophisticated that it does a disservice to the overarching position it advances. The report is moreover manifestly clouded by the politics of its authors. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong, mind you, with the report of a right-of-centre (or left-of-centre, or whatever) think-tank demonstrating a distinct political bent. The problem here is rather that the authors allow their political predilections to solidify into a type of confirmation bias that all too easily leads to errors in judgment, argument, and method. Let me explain how and why.

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The Fogmachine of War: A Comment on the Report “Clearing the Fog of Law”

Published on April 13, 2015        Author: 

In the Policy Exchange report Clearing the Fog of Law: Saving Our Armed Forces from Defeat by Judicial Diktat, Richard Ekins, Jonathan Morgan, and Tom Tugendhat criticize the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg for not disapplying the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in cases where British troops act abroad. Together the authors have written a report which impresses with its eloquence and conviction, but ultimately leaves something to be desired in terms of how it treats the sources and the method of international law.

The authors focus their attention on what they refer to as ‘a new form of judicial imperialism’(p 7), ‘the cavalier expansion’ of the ECHR (p 46), a development which, in their view, has at least two problematic aspects. First, the provisions of the ECHR, a convention which in their view was meant to be applicable only in time of peace, have been allowed to apply in war. Second, not only has the ECHR, in their view, illegitimately been allowed to apply; it ‘is supplanting and undermining the older and far more suitable body of International Humanitarian Law’ (p 9), for this purpose the four Geneva Conventions.

According to the report, the Strasbourg Court is wrong to have applied the ECHR to the actions of British troops acting abroad, and the Strasbourg Court is wrong to have let the ECHR supplant the rules of international humanitarian law. Such developments, the authors say, are not ‘properly supported by sound legal method’ but rather ‘an instance of over-bearing judicial power’ (p 9), the report arguing in essence that the courts have discarded what the authors term the traditional interpretation of the ECHR which could be summed up as ‘the general understanding that the ECHR did not apply extraterritorially’ (p 11& 46).

Read the rest of this entry…

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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.

Read the rest of this entry…

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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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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.

Read the rest of this entry…

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