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Home Human Rights Archive for category "Extraterritorial Application"

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 United States and the Torture Convention: A Memo from Harold Koh

Published on November 11, 2014        Author: 

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the United States will appear before the United Nations Committee Against Torture for a discussion of the United States’ Third to Fifth Periodic Reports under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Degrading Treatment. If the size and membership of the United States’ delegation to the Committee is anything to go by, the US is taking the session very seriously indeed. The US delegation includes high level representation from the State, Justice, Defence, Homeland Security and other Departments of the Federal Government as well as representatives of states. The dialogue between the US delegation and the Committee will be webcast here.

One key issue that will come up in the discussion is whether the US accepts that the Convention applies to conduct  of its officials and agents beyond its territory. In the list of issues that the Committee presented to the US in advance of the submission of its report (a list that was prepared five years ago now!), the Committee asked the US to:

“Please provide updated information on any changes in the State party’s position that the Convention is not applicable at all times, whether in peace, war or armed conflict, in any territory under its jurisdiction and is not without prejudice to the provisions of any other international instrument, pursuant to article 1, paragraph 2, and 16, paragraph 2, of the Convention.”

In its report, the United States was evasive on the question of the extraterritorial application of the Convention. It stated:

“6.  . . . It should be noted that the report does not address the geographic scope of the Convention as a legal matter, although it does respond to related questions from the Committee in factual terms.”

However, it then went on to note that:

“13. Under U.S. law, officials of all government agencies are prohibited from engaging in torture, at all times, and in all places, not only in territory under U.S. jurisdiction. Under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), Pub. L. No. 109-163, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd (“No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the U.S. Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment”), every U.S. official, wherever he or she may be, is also prohibited from engaging in acts that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This prohibition is enforced at all levels of U.S. government.”

Thus, while the US was indicating that US law and policy forbid torture by US officials wherever committed, it failed to acknowledge that the treaty obligations went this far. The US delegation will no doubt be asked to clarify its position before the Committee. A recent report in the New York Times indicates that there is an internal debate in the US administration about whether to abandon the US’ previous position that that provisions of the Convention Against Torture are restricted to acts on US territory. Apparently, while State Department lawyers are  pushing for a change in this position,

“military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture . . .”

In a recent intervention in this debate, Harold Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School and, Legal Adviser to the US State Department in first term of the Obama Administration, last week, wrote a “Memo to the President: Say Yes to the Torture Ban,” in Politico Magazine. Read the rest of this entry…

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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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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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Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on September 15, 2014        Author: 

Last Friday I had the privilege of moderating the panel discussion on the right to privacy in the digital age at the 27th regular session of the Human Rights Council. The video of the panel discussion is available here, and a press release summarizing some of the statements here. OHCHR will be producing a more detailed report on the discussion in due course.

It was a very interesting event, which benefited from four great panelists – Catalina Botero, the special rapporteur on the freedom of expression in the Inter-American system; Sarah Cleveland, professor at Columbia Law School; Yves Nissim, deputy chief of corporate social responsibility at Orange Telecom; and Carly Nyst, legal director of Privacy International. The discussion was lively and interactive, and also benefited from many comments from the floor by states and various NGOs. (Incidentally Dapo will also be moderating a HRC panel discussion next week on drones and counter-terrorism, also with an excellent cast of participants).

There was broad endorsement, from states as well as from the panelists, of the High Commissioner’s important report on the right to privacy in the digital age, with some disagreement on specific issues. The comments from the floor were quite varied in terms of topic, but two big themes were the application of the ICCPR to extraterritorial surveillance (on which see more here), and the quantity and quality of oversight and accountability mechanisms. The panelists and NGOs also called for the establishment of a new special rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The right to privacy in the digital age and the High Commissioner’s report will next be considered by the UN General Assembly at its forthcoming session next month.

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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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Gray v. Germany and the Extraterritorial Positive Obligation to Investigate

Published on May 28, 2014        Author: 

Last week a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided Gray v. Germany, no. 49278/09. The applicants were the sons of a British man who died in the UK after a doctor gave him the wrong drugs on a house visit. The doctor was German, and was hired by the UK National Health Service to provide out-of-hours home service to NHS patients. The doctor returned to Germany after the applicants’ father’s death. After a criminal malpractice investigation was conducted in the UK, Germany refused to extradite the doctor on the basis that criminal proceedings would ex officio take place in Germany. Those proceedings were later summarily completed, with the doctor sentenced to a fine, without notifying the applicants that the case would be disposed of summarily. The applicants claimed that this violated the procedural limb of Article 2 ECHR, read jointly with the overarching Article 1 obligation to secure human rights.

For various reasons, the Court rejected the applicants’ claim on the merits. But what makes this case interesting is that neither the German government, nor the Court sua sponte, thought that there was any Article 1 jurisdiction issue in saying that Germany had the positive obligation to investigate an unintentional death that took place in the United Kingdom, and at that at the hands of a private individual. Look at just how broad this position is – broader, indeed, than what I have argued for, since in my view a positive obligation would only apply if the death took place in an area controlled by the state or with state involvement.

Again, neither the Court nor the German government apparently thought that any Article 1 problem arose, presumably because the doctor was on German territory even though the applicant’s father had been in the UK. This well shows how in the small, politically unimportant cases people just tend to follow the universalist impulse and are oblivious to the existence of threshold applicability problems. Note, however, that the Court must ex officio confirm that the Convention applies and accordingly mind that it has subject-matter jurisdiction. If the issue was raised perhaps the Court would have decided it differently, but even so the case stands for the proposition that ECHR states parties have the duty to investigate even accidental deaths that took place outside any area under their control if the alleged perpetrator is located in such an area.

Stated in these terms, the implications of such an expansive approach are I think clear. Remember Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination in London, ostensibly at the hands of Russian agents? His family took a case against Russia to Strasbourg, which (I’ve been told) is on standby while issues around possible inquiry proceedings are being resolved in the UK. Suddenly that case becomes much easier for the applicants – regardless of whether the radioactive poison was administered by a Russian agent, if the alleged perpetrator is in Russia then Russia would have an Article 2 obligation to investigate. Similarly, if say a British tourist killed somebody in Thailand but then managed to escape back to the UK, the family of the deceased person in Thailand would have Article 2 rights vis-à-vis the UK and the UK would have to investigate the death, at least if it refused extradition. And this approach would a fortiori apply to cases where there is state involvement, e.g. when a soldier kills a civilian in an area not under the state’s effective control, but later returns to the state’s own territory.

In short, the Court seems to have actually created a comprehensive aut dedere, aut judicare principle under the ECHR, that applies even to unintentional taking of life, and probably did so unwittingly. Obviously we’ll have to wait and see whether Gray will have such an impact, or whether the Court will somehow manage to reverse course.

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Does IHL Provide a Legal Basis for Detention in Non-International Armed Conflicts?

Published on May 7, 2014        Author: 

In their excellent posts on Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB), both Kubo Mačák and Marko recognise the importance and hugely impressive analysis of Mr Justice Leggatt’s judgment. We will not reiterate the coverage of the judgment. Rather, we wish to focus on one part of it, that is, the question of whether international humanitarian law (IHL) provides a legal basis for detention in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). Whilst Kubo also focuses on this issue in his post, we will take the opposite view to him, and thus will argue that Mr Justice Leggatt correctly concluded that IHL does not contain a legal basis to detain in NIACs. To be clear, our argument is not that detention in NIACs is necessarily unlawful. The argument is simply that authorization to detain in a NIAC cannot be found in IHL, but must rest elsewhere, principally in domestic law (either of the state that detains or of the state on whose territory the detention occurs). Exceptionally, the authorization to detain may arise out of other branches of international law, in particular, it may be contained in United Nations Security Council resolutions authorizing the use of force.

It is worth spending a few moments considering why we are even asking the question whether IHL contains a legal basis for detention in NIACs. In the particular context of the Sedar Mohammed case – and other detention in armed conflict cases brought under the European human rights system – the question is relevant in considering whether Art 5 ECHR might be regarded as inapplicable in NIACs by virtue of the argument that more specific rules of IHL apply to regulate those detentions. More generally, international human rights law (IHRL) requires that any deprivation of liberty be both lawful and non-arbitrary and in the context of NIACs, it is natural to ask first whether the legal basis might be found in IHL, as it can for international armed conflicts (Arts 27(4), 42-3 and 78 GCIV; Art 21 GCIII).

In the Serdar Mohammed case, Mr Justice Leggatt provided a number of reasons for rejecting the MoD’s contention that IHL provides a sufficient legal basis for detention in the context of NIACs. We will address the key ones here. First, he considered that such a legal basis would have been made explicit in the relevant treaty provisions (common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II) had that been intended. This is a reasonable point – coercive powers should not too readily be read into applicable treaty rules without clear evidence that this is the collective intentions of the states parties. Read the rest of this entry…

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High Court Rules that the UK Lacks IHL Detention Authority in Afghanistan

Published on May 3, 2014        Author: 

Yesterday the High Court of England and Wales, per Mr Justice Leggatt, delivered a comprehensive judgment in Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB), holding that the United Kingdom lacks detention authority under international humanitarian law/law of armed conflict with regard to individuals it captures in the course of the non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan, and that any detention of such individuals longer than 96 hours violates Article 5 ECHR, as well as relevant Afghan law. The judgment is on any account a heroic effort, with the single judge grappling with a host of complex, intertwined issues of international law and acquitting himself admirably in the process. Para. 6 contains a summary of the judgment for those who don’t want to read the whole thing.

Here are some of the highlights of the Court’s analysis:

(1) The ECHR applies extraterritorially to any person detained by the UK in Afghanistan.

(2) Derogations under Article 15 ECHR could also be used in an extraterritorial context.

(3) The detention of SM by UK forces in Afghanistan was attributable to the United Kingdom, and not to the UN .

(4) No conflict arose between relevant UNSC resolutions, which did not authorize SM’s continued detention, and Article 5 ECHR, and Article 103 of the Charter was inapplicable.

(5) SM’s detention was not authorized by IHL either, since IHL in NIACs contains no detention authority, and cannot prevail over Article 5 ECHR as lex specialis.

(6) SM’s detention violated Article 5 ECHR. While the detention up to 96 hours was Article 5-compliant, the 110 days that SM spent in UK detention were not.

The Court makes it clear that the position the UK government found itself in is largely its own doing (para. 417 ff). This is exactly right. The government’s own legal advisers informed it of the limited extant legal authority for prolonged detention. The UK government failed to enact its own domestic legislation on detention in Afghanistan, or to come to different arrangements with Afghan authorities. Similarly, the UK government chose not to derogate from the Convention, preferring instead to argue that the Convention does not apply. And now that this strategy has failed (and on several levels), much of what it has been doing is exposed as unlawful.

I imagine that the judgment will be appealed, and we shall we see what happens there. But whatever the appellate courts’ conclusions, I can only hope that their judges will show as much diligence and analytical precision as Mr Justice Leggatt.

Here are the highlights, with some commentary:

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