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

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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The Tories and the ECHR: Mere Incompetence or Deliberate Deception?

Published on October 7, 2014        Author: 

The Conservative Party in the UK has released a paper entitled ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK – The Conservatives’ Proposals for Changing Britain’s Human Rights Laws’. This is in the aftermath of David Cameron’s pledge during the Conservative Party conference last week to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998, the domestic statute which transformed the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law, allowing for ECHR rights, as transformed through the HRA, to be directly invoked before and applied by UK courts. This is to be replaced by a ‘British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities’, a draft of which the Tories have pledged to shortly publish for consultation.

The pledge, and the paper, have already provoked a flurry of responses, both in the press and in numerous blog posts (though the best summary is aptly given by the Daily Mash in an article entitled ‘Human rights laws to be replaced by gut instinct‘). Many of these articles and blog posts, including the post here by Martin Browne,  have made a number of important points regarding the impact of such a change in UK law and international law, as well as with respect to devolution and the Good Friday Agreement. This short post aims to simply highlight the impact of the proposed Conservatives’ changes from the perspective of public international law. This impact would be rather minimal, except that the proposed changes will increase the danger of the UK running afoul of its international obligations, of it engaging its international responsibility. That is, of course, unless the real aim is to withdraw from the ECHR.

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The UK Conservative Party Proposes Changes to Human Rights Protection

Published on October 6, 2014        Author: 

For those accustomed to the debate surrounding the European Convention on Human Rights in the UK, it is a refreshing to hear a clear statement from Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, that the Convention is “an entirely sensible statement of the principles which should underpin any democratic nation,” and this on the 14th anniversary of the Human Rights Act 1998 taking legal effect, which allowed any individual to seek redress for human rights violations directly in UK courts.

Headlines have trailed that the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Conservative Party and in advance of the UK general election in May 2015, has issued a threat that the UK will denounce the Convention and repeal the Human Rights Act unless the European Court of Human Rights changes its approach and respects parliamentary sovereignty. Leaving aside the fact that the Court does respect parliamentary sovereignty, subjecting human rights protection to the control of one nation State would be dangerous and would reverse in an instant the progress made in the setting of human rights standards in the last 60 years.

Beyond the headlines are more damning proposals, accurately summarised here – that essentially would remove the right of some individuals to hold the State to account and establish asymmetrical application of human rights dependent upon the qualities of an individual’s ‘responsibilities in society’, the seriousness of the case, and the wonderfully vague threshold of whether the case arises in an area of law that already applies human rights law.

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The Grand Chamber Judgment in Hassan v UK

Published on September 16, 2014        Author: 

The eagerly-awaited Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Hassan v UK has now been released, and its importance for anyone interested in extraterritoriality, detention and the relationship between international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) cannot be overstated. For the first time in its history, the Court has explicitly offered its view on the interaction between IHL and IHRL and the operation of the Convention, particularly the right to liberty, in the context of an international armed conflict.

A good overview of the facts of the case and the Court’s judgment can be found here, and they will not be repeated in this post. Instead, I want to offer some initial thoughts on the Court’s reasoning with regard to Article 5 ECHR and, more specifically, its approach to treaty interpretation.

The question before the Grand Chamber was whether the internment of the applicant’s brother, which appeared to conform with the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, could be considered consistent with Article 5 ECHR, notwithstanding the absence of any derogation by the UK. At a very general level, the Court effectively had two options here. On the one hand, it could have followed the path it appeared to be laying in its previous case-law, particularly in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, and hold that, where jurisdiction exists and where no lawful derogation has been made, the State remains bound to honour its obligations under the ECHR as ordinarily interpreted. Had the Court taken this approach, the Contracting States may eventually have conceded defeat and begun derogating in extra-territorial contexts. (Incidentally, the Court continued to avoid explicitly engaging with the permissibility of extra-territorial derogations.) Instead, the Court adopted the alternative approach, interpreting the ECHR so as to leave room for the broader powers that States have under IHL. Thus, it effectively read into Article 5(1) ECHR an extra permissible ground for detention where consistent with the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, and it read down the requirement of habeas corpus in Article 5(4) to allow for the administrative forms of review under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Let’s begin with a few, in my view, positive points about the Court’s approach here. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Court rejected the UK’s principal argument that IHL as the lex specialis precluded jurisdiction arising under Article 1 ECHR (para 77). To have followed this would effectively have been to displace the entire Convention where IHL applies. Instead, the Court adopted a more nuanced, case-by-case approach which looks at the specific right at issue. This enables the Court to retain its oversight function by assessing the legality of the actions of Contracting Parties through the prism of IHL.

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The ECtHR’s Largest Ever Award for Just Satisfaction Rendered in the Yukos Case

Published on August 15, 2014        Author: 

mccarthy

Dr Conor McCarthy is a barrister at Monckton Chambers, London and formerly fellow of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.

On 31 July 2014 the European Court of Human Rights issued its decision in the just satisfaction phase of proceedings in Yukos v. Russia. In its judgment the Court made its largest ever award of compensation, ordering Russia to pay in the region of € 1.9 billion to the shareholders of the company at the time of its liquidation. In 2012, the Court had found Russia to be in violation of the rights to a fair hearing and the protection of property under the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocol 1. The Court’s compensation decision follows on from the recent final awards of three arbitral tribunals, constituted under the Energy Charter Treaty, which found that the Russian Federation had taken measures with the effect equivalent to an expropriation of Claimants’ investments in Yukos, contrary to Article 13 (1) of the treaty. These final awards were issued on 18 July 2014. Russia was ordered to pay almost $ 50 billion in compensation in these proceedings. Claims arising from the circumstances surrounding Yukos liquidation have also been taken before the ICC International Court of Arbitration as well as in national courts in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands as well as, of course, in Russia itself. This post focuses on the ECtHR’s decision, with some reflections on its significance.

Background

The events underlying the Yukos case occurred in the early 2000s, a period of considerable economic and political upheaval in Russia. Between 2002 and 2003 the Russian authorities investigated the tax affairs of Yukos. This culminated, in April 2004, in the company being assessed as having accumulated huge tax liabilities, in part, according to the findings of the Russians authorities, as a result of Yukos having used impermissible sham companies to evade tax. Yukos was ordered to pay approximately € 1.4 billion in tax arrears for the year 2000, € 1 billion in interest and a further € 0.5 billion in enforcement penalties. In the same month proceedings were initiated against Yukos alleging improperly declared tax liability and seeking the attachment of the company’s assets as security for the claim. A hearing was held at the Moscow City Commercial Court in respect of the tax assessment between 21 and 26 May 2004, with much of the evidence in support of the assessment (running to several tens of thousands of pages) being served on 17 May 2004 and in subsequent days immediately prior to the hearing. The assessment was upheld, with Yukos being found liable to pay well over € 1.3 billion in respect of tax in the year 2000, together with almost € 1 billion in interest and € 0.5 billion in penalties. Subsequently, the penalty imposed on Yukos (approximately € 0.5 billion) was doubled when the tax authorities determined that Yukos had used similar tax arrangements in 2001 to those used in 2000.

Yukos sought to appeal the decision of the Commercial Court. The appeal was dismissed by the Appeal Division of the Moscow City Commercial Court on 29 June 2004. On 30 June 2004, the Appeal Court issued a writ for the enforcement of Yukos’s assessed liabilities, compelling compliance within 5 days. Upon Yukos’s failure to pay the sums within the required period, further penalties of 7 % of the debt were levied. Yukos’s requests to extend the very short deadline for payment were unsuccessful. In the next six months there followed further tax re-assessments for each subsequent year to 2003, including in particular huge assessments to VAT as well as profits taxes, penalties and interest, ultimately totalling some € 24billion. The enforcement of these liabilities was immediate and in the absence of immediate payment in full incurred further surcharges.

Yukos were unable to obtain sufficient liquid funds to meet the liability. In December 2004 the majority of the shares in its largest and most profitable subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz, (“YNG”), were auctioned to meet its tax liability, rendering insolvency inevitable. Yukos was declared insolvent in August 2006.

The treatment of Yukos by the Russian Federation has resulted in considerable litigation at the international level. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ECtHR Finds the US Guilty of Torture – As an Indispensable Third Party?

Published on July 28, 2014        Author: 

The recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in two cases concerning secret detention in Poland are remarkable, not the least because their bold approach in respect of human rights violations committed by a third party, in this case the United States of America. Of course, the US is not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and was not a participant in the proceedings. In both cases Poland was found to have violated a number of ECHR provisions, including articles 3 and 5, by hosting a CIA black site and by otherwise participating in the US programme of secret detention and extraordinary renditions.

In paragraph 516 of Al Nashiri v. Poland (Application no. 28761/11, Chamber Judgment of 24 July 2014), the Court concludes:

In view of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the treatment to which the applicant was subjected by the CIA during his detention in Poland at the relevant time amounted to torture within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention (…).

The same conclusion appears in paragraph 511 of Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland (Application no. 7511/13, Chamber Judgment of 24 July 2014). Immediately after the finding on torture by the US, the Court makes its finding in respect of Poland (Al Nashiri para. 517).:

Accordingly, the Polish State, on account of its “acquiescence and connivance” in the HVD Programme must be regarded as responsible for the violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 3 of the Convention committed on its territory …

One may ask whether the ECtHR through its formulations in paras. 516-517 created a situation where the US was an indispensable third party, to the effect that the finding in respect of the lawfulness of conduct by the US was a prerequisite for a conclusion in relation to Poland, even if the Court obviously did not consider the US participation in the proceedings (or consent to its jurisdiction) to be indispensable.

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The ECtHR and the Regulation of Transnational Surrogacy Agreements

Published on July 25, 2014        Author: 

ivana6-1Ivana Isailović is a post-doctoral researcher at the Perelman Center for Legal Philosophy (Université libre de Bruxelles) and is affiliated with the IAP, Human Rights Integration Project.

In a number of recent cases, French courts refused to give effect to US court decisions that recognized French intending parents as legal parents of children born through surrogacy agreements and to inscribe the foreign filiation into the French civil status registry. In the decisions in Mennesson v. France and Labassee v. France, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that those refusals violated children’s right to private and family life, protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It dismissed claims based on the breach of parent’s right to private and family life and on violations of article 14 (non-discrimination), article 6-1 (right to a fair trial) and article 12 (right to marry).

This is the first time the ECtHR has considered the question of transnational surrogacy. The decisions tackle some of the vexing issues related to the regulation of the booming global surrogacy market. These issues include ethical and political concerns related to the commodification of the body. Also in question are the definitions of citizenship and parenthood in a context in which the differences between domestic regimes illustrate a variety of cultural and political understandings of filiation and parenthood. This post focuses on the latter set of issues and the legal uncertainties they create.

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The Downing of MH17 and the Potential Involvement of International Courts

Published on July 22, 2014        Author: 

I do not at all want to trivialize the human tragedy that is the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last week, nor for that matter the parallel unfolding tragedies on the ground in Ukraine and in Israel and Gaza, by engaging in some premature lawyerly analysis. But, in reading on the unfolding story of the aircraft’s demise, I nonetheless couldn’t help but think how that story is very likely to find its epilogue in an international courtroom. The facts of MH17′s destruction are obviously far from clear, and are not going to become much clearer in the near future, but the number of possible scenarios is limited – the aircraft was (most likely) destroyed by Ukrainian rebels with Russian-supplied weapons, or (less likely) by either Ukranian or Russian state agents (who may have acted ultra vires). And not only did the downing of MH17 deepen a major existing international crisis, but it directly affected a number of states other than Ukraine and Russia, such as Malaysia and the Netherlands, not to mention the families of the victims themselves. This raises both the incentives and the opportunities for international litigation, in addition to whatever proceedings may ensue before domestic courts or international fact-finding missions.

Consider, first, the possibility that a case or cases regarding MH17 might end up before the European Court of Human Rights. Both Russia and Ukraine are of course parties to the ECHR, and readers will recall that one of the first acts of the new government in Kiev in response to the Crimea crisis was to lodge an inter-state application against Russia in Strasbourg, on which the Court ordered provisional measures. It is perfectly possible for the downing of MH17 to be an issue in the existing or a new inter-state case, or indeed one brought by a third state, such as the Netherlands, since the majority of the victims had Dutch nationality. And obviously the families of the victims may also bring individual applications against either Russia or Ukraine.

In addition to whatever direct involvement these states may have had in the destruction of the aircraft, they could also be held liable for other internationally wrongful acts. For example, Ukraine could be responsible for failing to secure the right to life of the victims and failing to comply with its substantive positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR by deciding not to close the relevant airspace for civilian traffic. Russia could be held responsible for providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weaponry without sufficient safeguards (e.g. appropriate training of the missile crews), thus creating the risk that this weaponry could be used against civilian targets. Both states could be held responsible for failing to secure an effective investigation into the incident. Obviously the facts could yet develop and some very complex preliminary issues could arise (e.g. the extent of Russia’s control over the Ukrainian rebels and the question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application), but all these points seem arguable.

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OHCHR Publishes Report on Surveillance and Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on July 18, 2014        Author: 

Readers will recall that in its resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age the UN General Assembly had requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report for the next GA session on the various issues raised by mass electronic surveillance and the human right to privacy (see here for our previous coverage). An advance edited version of that report (A/HRC/27/37) is now available here. The report is rich, thoughtful and very much pro-privacy in the surveillance context, albeit not in a blind, fundamentalist way. It reaffirms that the right to privacy, as set out in Article 17 ICCPR or Article 8 ECHR, provides a framework within which the legality of surveillance measures needs to be assessed. While it acknowledges the legitimate governmental interests that surveillance may serve, it finds the existing institutional and legal arrangements in many states wanting and in need of further study and reform. Here are some of the highlights:

- It is important to consider linkages with other possible human rights violations, e.g. the collection of intelligence through surveillance that is later used for an unlawful targeted killing (para. 14).

- Interferences with the privacy of electronic communication cannot be justified by reference to some supposedly voluntary surrender of privacy on the Internet by individual users (para. 18).

- Collection of communications metadata can be just as bad in terms of privacy interference as the collection of the content of the communication (para. 19).

- Because of the chilling effect of surveillance: ‘The very existence of a mass surveillance programme thus creates an interference with privacy.’ (para. 20).

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S.A.S. v France: Living Together or Increased Social Division?

Published on July 7, 2014        Author: 

On 1 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has delivered, in a public hearing, its judgment in the case of S.A.S. v France. This case is a challenge of the French legislation prohibiting the wearing of face-covering clothing in all public spaces. In a post on this blog, Stephanie Berry discusses the case and points out a number of positive developments, including the balanced and well-reasoned nature of the judgment, the rejection of the gender equality and human dignity arguments for the burqaban, as she refers to the French law, and the consideration that this ban was not necessary for public safety in the absence of concrete evidence. However, Berry criticises the ECtHR for accepting that the ban pursues the legitimate aim of ‘living together’ under the ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others’. Berry points out that this concept pursues a distinctly assimilationist agenda. I agree with Berry that this is a worrying development. In this post, I examine this concept of ‘living together’ in more detail and explain why this is such a worrying development. I will not discuss other aspects of the judgment.

First of all, what does this concept mean? The ECtHR mentions that the ‘Report on the wearing of the full-face veil on national territory’ criticises the wearing of the full-face veil as ‘a practice at odds with the values of the Republic’ and as ‘a denial of fraternity, constituting a negation of contact with others and a flagrant infringement of the French principle of living together’ (para. 17). It also refers to the explanatory memorandum to the relevant law, which states that ‘the wearing of the full veil is the sectarian manifestation of a rejection of the values of the Republic’; that ‘the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is problematic because it is quite simply incompatible with the fundamental requirements of “living together” in French society’; and, that it ‘falls short of the minimum requirement of civility necessary for social interaction’ (para. 25). The French Government stated that one of the aims of the law was the observance of the minimum requirements of life in society because the face plays a significant role in human interaction, and the effect of concealing one’s face in public places is to break the social tie and to manifest a refusal of the principle of ‘living together’ (para 82, and for a similar argument from the Belgian government: para. 87).

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