Ireland v United Kingdom was the first inter-state case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Decided in 1978, it revolved around internment in Northern Ireland and the techniques used by British forces when interrogating internees at the height of ‘The Troubles’. As regards the treatment of the internees, the Court found that the use of the so-called ‘Five Techniques’ amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, but did not meet the threshold of severity to attract the “special stigma” of a torture finding against the United Kingdom. Since then, the Court has confirmed that what constitutes ill-treatment of sufficient severity to be deemed ‘torture’ under Article 3 can be subjected to the ‘living instrument’ doctrine (Selmouni v France), and various scholars have remarked that, should the Court be confronted with the same facts now as it was in Ireland v United Kingdom, a finding of torture would be handed down. Now, following investigative journalism by RTÉ (the Irish national broadcaster), new evidence has come to light that may well test this supposition.
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.
Following up on Aurel’s post on the Jaloud v. Netherlands case, I want to add a few brief thoughts regarding the bottom line of the judgment and what it means for the overseas military operations of European states.
First, Jaloud confirms the general trend in the European Court’s case law towards a more expansive approach to the extraterritorial application of the ECHR. Whether you think an expansive approach is a good idea or not, the trend is there, since the normative pull of universality is hard to resist, and as the Court becomes increasingly more familiar with applying the Convention to extraordinary situations. I personally feel that the judgment is correct in its basic approach to extraterritoriality, even if there is some conceptual confusion between various questions of jurisdiction and attribution, on which I will write separately. But the basic message to states is this: trying to exploit the many contradictions in the Court’s case law on extraterritoriality to deny the applicability of the Convention in this case or that will in most circumstances end in defeat. Rather than fighting a losing battle, states should focus their energies on arguments on the merits on which they are more likely to win.
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?
David 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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.